WASHINGTON – Music and technology circles usually at odds over how to prevent consumers from illegally downloading songs from the Internet have reached an agreement on how to tackle the problem of global piracy.
"The world's leading technology companies and the music industry have reached a landmark agreement," Business Software Alliance President Robert Holleyman said during a press conference Tuesday. "These principles will guide our efforts ... and will have a huge impact on the future of the Internet."
The digital copyright battle has pitted Silicon Valley against Hollywood, leaving Congress wrestling with how to get federal laws up to date with technological wizardry.
Aware that Congress was coming perilously close to finding a legislative solution, the tech industry and movie and music makers decided to meet in the middle, concluding that any government intervention is likely to be bad intervention.
"What we're saying is, we don't need our heads banged together," said Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, which represents the nation's record companies.
Hollywood and the music industry have long argued that more mechanisms need to be included in certain products like CDs or DVDs to prevent unauthorized copying and distribution. The tech industry, on the other hand, has complained the controls are too expensive and complex and don't give them enough leeway to thwart hacker attempts.
The compromise means the tech industry will support aggressive enforcement against digital pirates and, in exchange, the music industry will lobby against government requirements to build protective controls into new entertainment gadgets which may make it more difficult for consumers to share music and movies.
"Let's be realistic — a government technology tech mandate won't solve the problem of online piracy and poses such a threat to the future of the digital economy and the digital consumer, that technical mandates must be rejected," said Ken Kay, executive director of the Computer Systems Policy Project, made up of CEOs from the nation's top computer companies such as Microsoft and Dell.
RIAA, CSPP and BSA, whose members include Microsoft, Apple Computer and Adobe Systems, agreed on a core set of principles to guide their digital content policy activities through this Congress.
The agreement includes a set of seven principles for the industries to abide by.
They will encourage privately-funded consumer awareness campaigns about the rights and wrongs of digital copying but explore what federal role can be played; have the two industries figure out how to best protect against piracy while still meeting consumer expectations of new music and good technology; and support private and governmental enforcement actions against copyright infringers.
The principles also say legislation should not limit the use or effectiveness of tools used by the industries to limit unauthorized access, copying or redistribution of digital products. The industries will support technical measures to limit illegal distribution of copyrighted works as long as those measures don't harm individual users' data or equipment and they don't violate any private rights. The groups also agree that government's role should be limited to enforcing current laws and that they will seek out common ground in policy debates.
The lobbying groups and other technology companies have argued that current laws can stem piracy so long as they are properly enforced. The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act is one such law. The measure restricts what consumers can do with digital music and movies, is "generally working as it was intended," Holleyman said.
The two industries will begin planning an organization meeting of key industry executives within the next few weeks to "determine how our industries can best work together on digital content issues going forward," Holleyman said.
The principles are being applauded by some in the tech industry and on Capitol Hill.
"The legislative and rhetorical salvos that have typified the debate over the past year have been extremely counterproductive and have drawn attention away from the real problems and their market-based solution," said Jonathan Zuck, president of the Washington-based Association for Competitive Technology, which mainly represents small tech companies.
"The technology and entertainment industries have more in common than difference and a less heated environment will allow us to better find solutions that meet the needs of these industries and consumers."
Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., a strong supporter of the music industry, said he would be interested in hearing from the three industry groups if they think more copyright law is necessary.
"I hope the rest of the creative and technological communities get on board with a unifying message, and thus we can 'tone-down' the divisive rhetoric that has otherwise predominated many copyright and technology debates," Berman said in a statement.
It's thought that the agreement could affect a proposal by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., which made huge waves in the content community last year. His bill would prohibit the making and distribution "digital media devices" — such as handheld music players or CD players — unless they include government-approved copy restriction technology.
But Hollings spokesman Andy Davis said his plan was to get the technology and music industry talking about how they themselves can protect content, not so much to enact another restrictive law.
If Tuesday's announcement is a sign that the content community and the tech community are going to sit down and work it out on their own, "then that's exactly what he had hoped for," Davis told Foxnews.com. But if it's merely a way to get around the impasse the two sectors have thus far reached on the topic of digital right management, "then we're right back to square one and that would be very unfortunate."
"If they were to do nothing, then obviously, he would continue to pursue the legislation."