By Jonathan Krim Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 13, 2004; Page E04
Representatives of the movie, recording and software industries said yesterday that preserving a law banning technologies that let people copy DVDs and other digital entertainment is necessary to stop rampant piracy, even if it means that consumers cannot make copies for their personal use.
At a lively hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection, the lobbyists said changing the law and allowing such technologies could cripple the multibillion-dollar entertainment industry, chill creative innovation and cost jobs.
But proponents of a change scoffed at such claims. They said the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act went too far to protect those who create digital media, and instead punishes people who simply want to enjoy music or movies in different locations by having more than one copy.
The sparring was over one of the most difficult conundrums of the digital age: how to prevent the wholesale theft of copyrighted works -- which new technology can enable -- while letting consumers benefit from the convenience that such technology allows.
To the entertainment industry, which is at war against piracy on file-sharing networks and elsewhere, the only solution is to put technology into their products to prevent copying, and then outlaw anything that seeks to break that technology.
Jack Valenti, who heads the Motion Picture Association of America, said current copy-protection technology cannot distinguish between the pirate who wants to send out thousands of digital copies around the Internet, and the CD or DVD purchaser who wants another copy for the car or the house in the country.
"Once you allow one person to break [protection technology], you allow everyone to do it," Valenti said.
That is the philosophy behind the current law, which a bipartisan group of House members seeks to change. In their view, individuals have long-standing rights to "fair use," which allows protected works to be shared for personal, noncommercial use.
"User rights have been eroded," said Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who with 15 members from both parties is sponsoring a bill to loosen DMCA restrictions.
Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.), one of the bill's co-sponsors, waved his Apple iPod for committee members to see and said he failed to grasp when he voted for the DMCA in 1998 that it would restrict his rights to make use of music he had legally purchased.