Digital Content Copyright Protection Working Group Finds Little Consensus

Hoping to break the digital copyright protection impasse that threatens to further slow the digital television transition, a group of Hollywood studios, information technology firms and consumer-electronics companies released a report showing where the groups agree and where they don't regarding copy protection tools in consumer products.

Several members of the content industry hoped a positive report from the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group would include a consensus leading to antipiracy legislation in Congress. Congress and consumer-electronics officials have hoped that better digital content protection would increase the availability of digital media, which would in turn spur the expansion of digital television. Content providers, such as Hollywood studios, are holding back some programming because of concerns that the content could easily be copied and distributed over the Internet.

Copyright protection technology being considered involves a digital mark on each broadcast, called a "flag," that would be accepted by some devices and scrambled so they could not be moved onto the Internet. But the parties still have disagreement on the scope and implementation of such flags.

The main impasse appeared to be that some technology and consumer electronics companies were concerned that the studios wanted too much control over implementing standards and which technologies would meet them. Microsoft, Philips and Zenith have their own copyright-protection plans for presentation to device manufacturers, while the studios favor another system developed by companies including Intel, Panasonic and Toshiba.

The Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the studios, hopes that Congress will still create legislation or that the FCC will oversee new regulations, but technology and consumer-electronics officials said it was too soon to think about adopting a standard of any sort. In particular, the technology and consumer-electronics officials said that the studios' desired content protection plans would create difficulties in working with DVD players and could limit longstanding "fair use" of material, such as home recording and playback and use of materials for educational or journalistic purposes. In addition, the companies worry that the expense and effort required would still not prevent content from being disbursed on the Internet.