Hollywood and the entertainment industry are locked in a bitter battle with high-tech world of Silicon Valley on how to curb growing piracy of films, music and other forms of digital content over the Internet.
Congress is now weighing the prospect of imposing copy-protection measures on computers, televisions DVD players and other equipment -- a move that has free-speech advocates and the high-tech industry up in arms.
Senator Ernest Hollings recently introduced measures called the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Act of 2002 -- requiring television sets, cable boxes, and personal computers to be manufactured to in a way "to prevent illegal copying or redistribution."
Hollings said the entertainment industry wants to provide more content over the Internet -- but only if they can be guaranteed that illegal copying does not become rampant.
"For several years the private sector has attempted to secure a safe haven for copyrighted digital products, unfortunately with little to show for its efforts," Hollings said.
"The result has been an absence of robust, ubiquitous protections of digital media which has lead to a lack of content on the Internet and over the airwaves. And who has suffered the most? Consumers."
Hollings' move came after a hearing in which Hollywood executives pleaded for efforts to guard against piracy of "creative content," purported to be worth US$450 billion to the US economy.
Michael Eisner, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, told the hearing that makers of computer equipment are trying to cash in on piracy at the expense of the creators.
"At least one high tech executive has described illegal pirate content as a 'killer application' that will drive consumer demand for broadband," Eisner said. "Obviously, the development of broadband networks is an appropriate national goal only if those networks are conduits for legitimate -- not pirate -- content."
Eisner cited a recent study showing "more than 350,000 illegal pirate movies are downloaded from the Internet every day."
Peter Chernin, president and chief operating officer of News Corporation, which owns Fox Studios and television operations, echoed those remarks.
"American books, movies, television and music are among our most successful products overseas; but if they cannot be protected from unlawful copying, their export value would shrink to nothing," he said.
"The potential of the wholesale disregard of copyrights would be devastating to employment and job creation in the US, and to any chance of making the Internet a boon to us all."
But Silicon Valley says any tough mandates on copy protection would stifle technological innovation and hurt consumers, who already may legally make copies of items they buy for one device for use on another.
Intel vice president Leslie Vadasz said Hollywood became equally upset over the advent of the videocasette recorder decades ago, but ended up finding ways to profit from it.
"For the government to mandate how the IT industry designs and develops chips, or to try and force agreement for design features, would be ludicrous ... irreparable economic damage would result."
Vadasz said that Hollywood studios in many cases are looking for "total control" of the technology to deliver its goods.
The Information Technology Association of America, a high-tech industry group, said it opposes these measures, calling them "a blow to innovation and consumer choice."