US tech companies back EU approach to digital copyright

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US tech companies back EU approach to digital copyright

Many US technology companies are supporting a European Union approach to digital copyright legislation, in preference to it being pushed through the US Congress.

Members of the European Parliament, speaking at the US Congressional Internet Caucus in Washington this week, said they would not mandate digital rights management (DRM) specifications. Instead they would let the market develop its own standards.

In the US Congress, there is no such consensus. Instead, debate is raging over a proposal by Senator Fritz Hollings that would mandate government specifications to impose DRM technologies on any PC or other digital device.

DRM technology is used to ensure that copyright digital works playing on a device cannot be copied without authorisation.

Much of the US technology industry views Hollings' bill as an imposition since it would put digital copyright enforcement on the shoulders of PC and device makers as well as Internet service providers who supply the networks over which content flows.

"In the US we have the Hollings bill, which tries to impose mandatory DRM [standards] on the industry, unlike the European Parliament which will not mandate specifications," said Sarah Deutsch, vice-president and associate general counsel for telecoms giant Verizon Communications.

Deutsch spoke during a panel on digital copyright with European Parliament members and other industry representatives sponsored by the Congressional Internet Caucus.

Hollings' bill would "replace an industry-led solution with a government mandate ... at our own expense and liability", Deutsch said.

In June 2001 the European Parliament, the legislative arm of the EU, passed a copyright directive that, like the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, includes provisions to protect digital works.

The EU's 15 member states have until December to enact the directive, said MEP Malcolm Harbour.

But DRM was not included in the directive. Instead, the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, is holding debates and workshops on DRM. The aim is to arrive at industry consensus on how the technology should be implemented, and to make different DRM iterations compatible, said MEP Arlene McCarthy.

"The idea of the workshops is how to make DRM acceptable," McCarthy said. "There will be no legislation on this, we want the industry to take the lead."

The parliament has held off on legislating DRM because such efforts may not lead to the right specifications, McCarthy said.

Whatever DRM specifications do emerge in Europe will have to allow for consumers' fair use, added Harbour. Fair use is an element of both US and EU copyright law that lets consumers duplicate copyright works for their personal use.

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