WASHINGTON: The technology industry will soon throw its first punch in what promises to be a long, expensive battle against Hollywood - a battle that may eventually determine how consumers see movies.
The Business Software Alliance (BSA) is now hearing final pitches for a six-month, $1 million contract. The winner will lead a campaign to stop the entertainment industry from outlawing products that enable consumers to download films or TV shows over the internet.
Much like the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) efforts to shut down Napster, the software that allowed consumers to trade copyrighted music over the web, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which represents the seven major studios, is trying to stop the public from obtaining its products without paying for them. But unlike the RIAA, Hollywood isn't waiting for the technology to be widely available before taking action.
The MPAA's massive lobbying efforts have so far resulted in The Hollings Bill. If passed, the bill would mandate copyright-protection technology be built into a wide range of digital devices, making Napster-like sharing of movies and TV shows an impossibility.
Hollywood is also backing a bill from Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) that would allow copyright holders to use aggressive technology to find and stop illegal downloads.
While the BSA has its own interest in preventing such sharing - software makers lose billions every year to illegal copying - it considers a government mandate of any technology an overly blunt tool for dealing with a complex problem.
"The Hollings legislation is an enormous threat to our industry, as well as to consumers of IT industry products," explained BSA communications director Jennifer Greeson. "The language is very broad, and it would essentially allow government to dictate what goes into technology products, which could impact performance, price, and capabilities enormously."
With MPAA head Jack Valenti, a longtime lobbyist, campaigning hard, and entertainment-industry sources generously donating to key political players, Hollywood has gained the upper hand with lawmakers.
Greeson concedes that neither her organization nor the industry in general has the money to fight Hollywood dollar for dollar. Therefore, they are seeking a PR agency to help organize the effort by building a stronger coalition and taking the fight to the public.
Though the current RFP covers just six months, a source close to the drive said it is likely to be extended considerably.