DVDs Await Congressional Protection

Industry executives want a new law to bolster DVD anti-piracy technology

Lobbyists for the computer and movie industries will push Congress next year to outlaw any effort to crack the anti-piracy technology that protects movies stored on digital video disks.

"What we want is a legislative backup for the technology," said Fritz Attaway, a Washington lobbyist for the Los Angeles-based Motion Picture Association of America.

"The full [anti-piracy] scheme is technology, plus law, plus diplomacy, and in the end, plus economics," said Alan Bell, an executive at IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y.

However, drawing up the law may prove tricky, largely because commonplace computer technology used in the home or office can also be used to circumvent the anti-piracy technology.

After months of negotiations, executives from the movie, consumer electronics and computer industries have reached a technical solution to a piracy problem that has prevented the introduction of DVDs.

DVDs can carry more data than existing videotape cassettes and are expected to supplant these cassettes in the consumer electronics marketplace.

Movie studios hope to sell DVDs containing new and old movies, while computer and consumer electronics companies expect to sell a variety of DVD players for use with home computers and televisions.

However, movie executives stymied the market by refusing to release their movies on DVDs. Without stringent anti-piracy measures, the movies could be illegally mass-produced, sharply cutting the studios' revenue, said the executives.

The new anti-piracy technology was developed after computer executives -- including executives from Compaq Computer Corp., Apple Computer Inc. and IBM -- rejected an earlier technology proposed by the movie and consumer electronics industries. The computer companies also opposed an anti-piracy law drafted by the movie and home electronics industries, saying it would restrict the development of new computer technology.

Under the new anti-piracy scheme, movies carried on DVDs will be electronically compressed. Critical portions of the compressed data will be scrambled.

To unscramble the movie, DVD players -- including computers -- will contain unscrambling technology licensed by a cross-industry licensing organization.

The unscrambling technology could be hardware, software or a combination, according to Bell, who helped work out the details of the anti-piracy technology.

While this technical solution can prevent illegal at-home copying of DVDs by consumers, it can't prevent piracy by skilled criminals, said Bell and Attaway. For example, it is possible for a criminal organization to buy laser-scanning devices that could allow the mass replication of DVDs carrying scrambled movies, said Attaway.

To curb mass replication, industry officials want Congress to pass a law barring any effort to circumvent the anti-piracy technology. The law will be simple and will likely match laws that bar theft of cable TV service, said Attaway.

To minimize difficulties seen earlier in the year when the computer industry opposed the initial DVD anti-piracy law, computer executives will help draft the new legislation, Bell said.

Industry executives hope to draft a bill by late January for delivery to the chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees, Attaway said.

Once approved, the law and the technology may provide a model for other countries that will soon face the DVD conundrum, he said.

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