Committee rejects content protection alternative

Standards setters have voted against adding a copy-protection mechanism to the ATA (Advanced Technology Attachment) standard that governs communications between a PC and removable media devices.

A technical committee of the National Committee on Information Technology Standards (NCITS) voted against a proposal favoring the inclusion of "generic functionality" in a paper ballot conducted over a 30-day period that concluded earlier this week.

The question of including generic functionality became controversial because it was viewed as something that could prevent the copying and unauthorized distribution of protected content on the removable devices.

But the T-13 technical committee rejected the proposal, submitted in February by Phoenix Technologies Ltd. The proposal fell short of the two-thirds majority required among the 22 members of the committee who are eligible to vote. Eight voted in favor; seven voted no; three abstained; and four did not vote.

The proposal was presented during a committee meeting in Austin as an alternative to one previously submitted by IBM Corp. The IBM-backed Copy Protection Feature Proposal was withdrawn after Phoenix Technologies formally recommended the alternative. A majority of the members present at the meeting voted for the proposal, but under NCITS rules a two-thirds majority was required to adopt it. The generic functionality proposal generated a lot of interest among committee members because it set aside commands that could be used to achieve not only content protection, but a number of other things. For example, a company with a better approach to audio-video streaming could take advantage of such a generic functionality scheme as easily as a company that wanted to implement content protection, Kate McMillan, director of the secretariat for NCITS (pronounced en-sites) said in a release issued Monday.

However, generic functionality was also perceived as something that would be used largely for content protection. Ultimately, the committee decides the merits of all proposals, and the votes for the latest proposal were not there, McMillan said.

Ostensibly, the proposal failed because not enough members of the committee, comprised mostly of design engineers, believed that it technically enriched the standard, Maryann Karinch, spokeswoman for NCITS, said Friday.

The ATA standard is continuing toward completion, possibly late in the third quarter, Karinch said. It is still possible for other proposals to be brought before the committee, but as things stand now, the content protection functionality question has been taken care of, she said. Reaction has included congratulatory e-mail from people who were concerned that the addition of the proposal would have restricted the copying of content even for legitimate purposes.

The T-13 committee meets every two months. Its next meeting, which is open to all interested parties, is scheduled to take place April 24-26 in Longmont, Colorado.

The eight companies that voted in favor of generic functionality were IBM, Phoenix Technologies, Absolute Software Corp., Circuit Assembly, Hitachi Ltd, Iomega Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Toshiba Corp. The seven no votes were cast by Adaptec Inc., Apple Computer Inc., consultant Hale Landis, LSI Logic Corp., Maxtor Corp., STMicroelectronics NV and Western Digital Corp.

Fujitsu Ltd., Marvell Semiconductor Inc. and Qlogic Crop. abstained. CMD Technology Inc., Dell Computer Corp., Pacific Digital Corp. and Texas Instruments Inc. did not cast a ballot.

The T13 technology committee can be found on the Web at http://www.t13.org/.

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