March 13, 2002 11:45 AM PST

Lawmaker renews anti-copying criticism

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An influential U.S. lawmaker stepped up his criticism Wednesday of record labels' moves to protect CDs against copying.

Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., approached the record industry's trade association in January with concerns that blocking consumers from copying their own CDs might violate U.S. copyright law. The response from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) didn't satisfy him, he said.

"The RIAA's response...does little to relieve my concern that consumer fair-use protections are being threatened by what we now see is the intended widespread introduction into the U.S. of copy-protected CDs," Boucher said in a statement Wednesday.

The lawmaker's statement appeared to be another step toward legislation aimed at restricting the recording industry's and Hollywood's anti-piracy efforts. In a speech to consumer electronics executives earlier this month, Boucher said he hopes to see a bill that reaffirmed consumers' "fair-use rights" passed soon.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) released its own statement Wednesday, backing Boucher.

"The deployment of copy-protected CDs threatens to unilaterally eliminate Americans' fair-use right to noncommercial audio home recording," CEA Chief Executive Gary Shapiro said. "We urge Rep. Boucher and other members of Congress to move forward in ensuring that America's noncommercial home-recording rights are protected."

All of the big record labels are moving slowly toward adding technology to their CDs that could prevent consumers from making digital copies on computers or standalone CD burners. Although only two titles have been openly released with the technology in the United States, the labels have been experimenting more aggressively in European markets.

The labels point to unauthorized CD copying as one of the most powerful trends, along with Internet file-sharing through services such as Kazaa or Morpheus, that is undermining the music industry's core business.

In a letter to Boucher late last month, RIAA Chief Executive Hilary Rosen noted that twice as many blank CDs as audio CDs were sold worldwide in 2001. Record sales decreased by 10 percent in that year compared with 2000, and 23 percent of people in a survey of music consumers said they weren't buying more music because they are burning CDs and downloading music, Rosen said.

"While no doubt there are a number of factors to explain the current economic plight of the music industry, there can be no question that mass copying, free distribution and piracy are causing significant damage to those who create and market music," Rosen wrote.

Boucher is among the most prominent voices asking whether plans to gird CDs against unauthorized copying violates a compromise struck in a law called the Audio Home Recording Act. He quoted from a Senate Judiciary Committee report accompanying that law, which said that a "key purpose of (the legislation) is to insure the right of consumers to make analog and digital recordings of copyrighted music for private, noncommercial use."

That meant that consumers' creation of a copy to use in the car, or to give to a family member, was legal, that report said.

However, some attorneys have noted that the law only gives people a protection from being prosecuted under copyright law. It doesn't require the record companies to ensure people can easily make those copies.

Boucher said in his statement Wednesday that file trading is a reality of the Internet and that record companies must live with it.

"Copy-protection technologies will inevitably be defeated and the music on the CDs uploaded to the Internet," he wrote. "The (technology) gains the recording industry virtually no relief from Internet file-sharing. It does, however, seriously undermine the fair-use rights of consumers who lawfully acquire music."

He welcomed the RIAA's agreement that copy-protected CDs should be labeled. But he said the industry should work with some government-sponsored testing group to ensure the new technology wouldn't interfere with sound quality and give consumers more confidence in the products.

Boucher has criticized several recording industry policies toward online businesses and digital piracy over the past few years. He's already introduced a bill that would require record labels to license their music to online businesses more freely.

Other powerful lawmakers are squarely on the other side of the issue, however. Sen. Fritz Hollings, D- S.C., is pushing for a bill that would mandate anti-piracy technology be built into any computer or consumer-electronics device, guarding against unauthorized copying of music, movies or software.

A hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled for Thursday on digital copyright issues.

 

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