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Tech industry to challenge Hollywood over digital rights

The high-tech industry plans to launch a sophisticated new lobbying campaign in late January to strike back against Hollywood in a battle to shape rules of the road for new digital technologies, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

The Business Software Alliance and Computer Systems Policy Project — two prominent high-tech trade groups representing Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and other industry heavyweights — are forming a new coalition and working together to enlist support from consumer and business groups, the newspaper said.

The goal is to convince Congress that strict copy-protection legislation that sets technological mandates would stifle innovation, harm consumers and threaten an already suffering tech industry.

“These things have a very big impact on our industry and on Intel,” said Intel lobbyist Doug Comer in an interview with the newspaper. “It’s not just about, ‘Are we driving up the price of the chip?’ It’s about what kind of future is being created for digital consumers.'”

The entertainment industry had the upper hand in the battle last year, with a carefully orchestrated lobbying campaign and bills introduced by powerful lawmakers. Hollywood-backed legislation filed by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., and Rep. Howard L. Berman, D-Los Angeles, would embed copy protection into PCs and an array of consumer devices.

But the legislation had negative consequences that have resulted in a consumer backlash. It has served as a rallying cry for consumer groups and tech companies to fight for consumers' rights to make copies of CDs, DVDs and other digital works for personal use, as they do with TV shows and audiotapes. The political winds have shifted in Washington over the past year, and a Hollings-style bill isn’t expected to get far in the new Congress.

“Nothing is going to go through without a great deal of public scrutiny,” said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a public-interest advocacy group that promotes consumers’ digital rights.

As Republicans take control of the Senate, Hollings will lose his chairmanship of the Commerce Committee to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. McCain has been a frequent critic of Hollywood.

“Sen. McCain is extraordinarily tech-savvy,” said Consumer Electronics Association lobbyist Michael Petricone. “He is much less inclined toward a government-mandated solution.”

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