US House panel wades into digital content protection

WASHINGTON, April 25 (Reuters) - As U.S. House lawmakers on Thursday prepare to hear a progress report on discussions to solve digital content protection

WASHINGTON, April 25 (Reuters) -

As U.S. Houselawmakers on Thursday prepare to hear a progress report ondiscussions to solve digital content protection issues, oneconsumer electronics maker said legislation to resolve the problemswas "premature."

The transition to digital has been slowed in part because oflimited digital programming available, high-priced equipment neededto receive the signals, and the particularly prickly issue ofpotential piracy of content.

Sen. Ernest Hollings, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee,proposed one solution but kicked up a storm in March when heintroduced a bill that would prevent new computers, CD players andother consumer-electronics devices from playing unauthorizedmovies, music and other digital-media files.

The bill is embraced by the various recording studios and othercontent producers though it has received little support fromconsumers and electronics manufacturers.

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on the Internetwill wade through the content protection issue and hear on Thursdayfrom incoming AOL Time Warner Inc. Chief Executive Officer Richard Parsons and Philips ConsumerElectronics CEO Lawrence Blanford, amongothers.

Blanford said in an interview before the hearing thatlegislation was not immediately necessary and instead Congressshould authorize a forum to address the controversial issue of howconsumers can record and re-use content in the privacy of their ownhomes.

"I don't see Congress necessarily legislating the answer here,"he said. "I think it, again, needs to create the appropriate forumfor driving a balanced solution. Now maybe out of that balancedsolution some form of legislation should ultimately come forth, butI think it may be premature."

The panel has been holding roundtable discussions with variousindustry participants in an attempt to bridge the divide on some ofthe issues and Rep. Billy Tauzin, chairman of the full committee,said they were getting closer to agreements on content protection,interoperability and some standards.

Blanford said that process should be slowed to address how andwhether consumers will be able to tape their favorite shows andwatch them at a different time or on a different television set intheir homes.

"I think we would tend to want to slow it down a bit," he said."You can speed down the road and even have the right technicalsolutions, but if consumers have not had a voice and do not acceptthe solution, what have you gained?"

The forum would "ensure that there is an open process where abalance between business interests and consumer rights andintellectual property rights can be properly managed," Blanfordsaid.

Hollings legislation has evoked a furious backlash fromtechnology firms, who say it would hurt their ability to innovate,and would encourage consumers to hold on to their older equipmentrather than buy new models that restrict their activities.

Consumer advocates say it would also take away "fair use" rightsthat allow them to record TV shows for later viewing or tranfer aCD to a portable MP3 player.