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Taking the Napster Out of Video

July 23

The long arm of Hollywood has called on friends in the Federal Government to nip Napster-like video services before they bud. Members of Congress are now asking the FCC to impose regulations to resolve disputes between Hollywood and such hardware manufacturers as Intel.

"Absent robust protection, copyright owners may increasingly restrict their best television programming to cable and satellite networks," Senator Hollings, Democrat of South Carolina, has declared.

"So what? Don't they already?", we find ourselves wondering.

Hollings has been promoting laws requiring PC manufacturers to install special copy-protection chips in their machines. Many observers believe that such legislation would create not only substantial consumer costs but a thriving black market in "illegal" machines, making thousands of consumers criminals.

Other schemes have envisioned "Mission Impossible" files that self-destruct after one or several viewings. All such efforts are targeting Hollywood's nightmare: widespread development of Napster-like video file sharing networks.

While we sympathize with Hollywood's plight, we're even more concerned about the industry's efforts to impose the costs and inconveniences of their copyright protection schemes on the public through Big Brother government regulation.

Holling's ideas lead to situations where government agencies have the right to inspect PC user files for infractions, or force them to use technologies that block certain types of "unauthorized" activities.

How about, instead of broad-brush new laws imposed on everyone, Hollywood concentrate instead on encyption and limited-use software technologies like those employed routinely by online applications vendors?

Or maybe assume that -- since technology is driving fundamental. irreversable changes in the standard Hollywood and broadcast TV business models -- it's time to develop new models?

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