Companies unite to attack piracy


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LAS VEGAS -- NBC Universal has found new friends outside the content business to explore a different path to countering online copyright infringement.

Representatives of AT&T, Microsoft and smaller companies spanning different facets of the Internet world convened Tuesday for a news conference in NBC Uni's booth at the Consumer Electronics Show to discuss a renewed attack on piracy that could see new filtering technology employed by Internet service providers.

What united a content company (NBC Uni), a major ISP (AT&T) and a software creator (Microsoft) in one room was the frank assessment that all are on losing ground as infringement continues to grow, particularly on peer-to-peer networks.

"The volume of P2P which is dominated by illegal uncopyrighted material is overwhelming, and that clearly should not be an acceptable continuing status," said NBC Uni executive vp and general counsel Rick Cotton, who convened the meeting.

The participants acknowledged that their collaboration was unlikely given the turf battles of previous years, when legal imperatives dictated that each party protect its own interests. That has given way to a collective awareness beyond Hollywood that the various industries have to work together.

"The content owners that have been (the one) coming to the Hill talking about this problem," said James Cicconi, senior vp external and legal affairs at AT&T. "What has changed here is a range of interests are joining this battle, siding with the content owners.

"We're starting to see a new phase of discussion on this, not as pitched, one that is more collaborative," said Jule Sigall, senior attorney in Microsoft's legal and corporate affairs department.

While the press conference was short on details, the notion of any kind of filtering an Internet network is controversial. Comcast Corp. is facing investigation by the FCC for its move last year to impede flagrant overuse of P2P networks. However, the assembled companies stressed they were examining more refined, but unspecified filtering practices.

Cicconi noted the underwhelming results of the entertainment industry's traditional reliance on Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices. "It's certainly not optimal and I think most of the content companies have recognized its counterproductive in many ways," he said.

Cicconi also acknowledged that AT&T has held discussions with other content companies besides NBC Uni, but would not disclose which ones.

Also in the meeting was Vance Ikeyoze, co-founder of Audible Magic; Kate Purnal, general manager at SanDisk; Alex Terpstra, CEO of Philips Content Identification, and Yangbin Wang, CEO of Vobile.

Cicconi acknowledged that there are still differences the assembled companies will have to work out. "It doesn't mean we're going to agree on every single point," he said. "We're working together to find common ground.

That's what's changed. We're not reflexively defending our own turf."