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The U.S. Department of Commerce's Technology Administration established a "dialog" with consumer groups worried about the impact of proposed digital rights management schemes during a sit-down Tuesday, but don't expect big changes in the agency's position on the need for DRM.

Chris Israel, deputy assistant secretary for technology policy, said the Tuesday meeting "served as a good foundation for a dialog going forward," but the Technology Administration already had a good idea of the consumer and fair-use objections to DRM.
The Technology Administration met with about 20 people, representing about a half dozen consumer groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Free Software Foundation, Public Knowledge, the American Library Association, Consumer Project on Technology, Consumer's Union, and New York's Linux and fair use communities.

Asked if the meeting had changed anyone's mind, Israel said the agency will continue to try to be an "effective facilitator and catalyst for debate" about DRM. The agency's position, he said, continues to be: "Solutions that are developed in the marketplace tend to be more effective and long lasting."

Fred von Lohmann, senior intellectual property attorney for the EFF, said he thought the Technology Administration representatives did listen to the consumer groups. He noted that two of the agency officials there were lobbyists for tech companies before coming to the Department of Commerce, "so they are quite familiar with the issues involved in the battle between Hollywood and Technology."

Earlier this summer, Israel went further in explaining the agency's policy: "If there's a technologically sound argument that can be put on the table that disproves the point that there needs to be a technological fix to the problem presented, we'll certainly listen to that. [But] we continue to think it's important to discuss a framework where there's a consistent and reliable mechanism for protecting intellectual property."

So a marketplace solution to DRM may come back to tech giants and Big Hollywood sitting around a table figuring out how they can work together to implement DRM. Israel noted, however, that the Federal Communications Commission and Congress may act before a marketplace solution can be reached.

Israel said the Technology Administration doesn't have more DRM discussions planned, but he insisted that consumer groups will have a voice going forward. "We'll keep an active dialog going with all the stakeholders in this issue," he said. "What we accomplished [Tuesday] was building a more direct dialog with some real thought leaders."

Von Lohmann added that the Department of Commerce doesn't have direct jurisdiction over copyright policy -- that's the Patent and Trademark Office -- so the DoC "cannot act unilaterally in the copyright area. As a result, much of the focus at the meeting was on broadband policy."

"It's worth noting that the Bush Administration has, so far, remained on the sidelines in the recent legislative initiatives on DRM (like the Hollings Bill)," von Lohmann added. "No idea whether that may change in the future."

© Newsforge.com.

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