June 16, 2004 5:30 PM PDT

Piracy battle begins over digital radio

Consumer groups, electronics companies and record labels squared off Wednesday in the first full public airing of proposals for antipiracy protections for digital radio networks.

Digital radio, which transforms traditional over-the-air broadcasts into the same kind of bits and bytes used in Internet transmissions, promises to boost the audio quality of FM signals to that of a CD. But it also holds out the promise of transforming radio listening in the same way that TiVo hard drive-based recorders have changed TV--by providing powerful recording and playback options.

The new medium has attracted the attention of the Federal Communications Commission, which recently began a proceeding that could end up laying out content protection rules and other regulations for it.

On Wednesday, the Recording Industry Association of America asked the FCC for new antipiracy protections that would prevent listeners from archiving songs without paying for them--and from trading recorded songs online. The RIAA and musicians' trade groups are worried that consumers might one day forgo buying albums or songs from iTunes-like services in favor of recording CD-quality songs off digital radio services.

"We know this (technology) will be attractive to consumers," RIAA Chief Executive Officer Mitch Bainwol said. "For us, it's the challenge that peer-to-peer introduces but made more complex by the fact that there are no viruses, there is no spyware or other file-sharing (problems)."

The debate is shaping up to resemble the earlier discussion around digital television technology, which similarly had movie studios worried that their products would be recorded and traded online. Both debates have pitted powerful forces against each other in Washington, D.C., and have given content companies a key role in helping shape the future of a nascent technological medium.

In digital radio, the RIAA would like to see music transmissions encrypted so that only authorized receivers that follow content protection rules could play the songs. It would also like to see a "flag" inserted in a song's data stream to prevent any recordings made from being transmitted online.

Those ideas have drawn deep opposition from consumer groups and electronics companies, which say the FCC has no congressional mandate to impose content protection on radio broadcasts of any kind.

"Interfering with radio broadcasters' shift to digital broadcasting would choke off advancement and modernization," Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association, said in a statement released Wednesday. "Not only is that un-American, it's totally without merit."

Consumer groups echoed Shapiro's opposition to the RIAA's proposals.

"No one at the Recording Industry Association of America or the FCC has demonstrated any need whatsoever for content protection on a service that doesn't exist in the U.S.," said Gigi Sohn, co-founder of Public Knowledge, a copyright campaign group that is working with Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America on the issue. "The recording industry is trying to fool the FCC into regulating home taping of radio, which is protected by law."

The first round of comments on the digital radio issues had a deadline of Wednesday for submission to the FCC. Another round of comments is due on July 16.

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Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
When Was The Last Time You Heard ANYBODY Say They Copied Off Radio?
This entire issue seems like a tremendous waste of time and energy.

When was the last time you heard anybody say they copied anything off radio and with songs available online at thousands of websites globally, why would anyone even bother to copy anything off radio??? Many of the songs being downloaded for free aren't even on radio.

If I'm missing something here...please tell me. But I see this as a major NON-ISSUE issue.
Posted by stephenmeyer (33 comments )
Reply Link Flag
you are missing the big picture
I for one still regularly tape public radio.
The point is not whether anyone does it, the point is it's legal to do so and the RIAA is attempting to take away the possibility to do so, by calling these legitimate actions "piracy". Taging such recordings so they cannot be traded online sounds like a good idea on the surface, but I'm sure there are legal obstacles to this as well. (Not all radio transmissions are copyrighted songs controlled by the RIAA.)
You should not rely on the free online swapping as your solution to eroding rights. These services will not be around forever. And certainly not as mass public conviences. There will always be underground trading, but this swapping is definitely illegal and WILL be severly cut back by legislation and technological solutions that make it cumbersome enough to make it inaccessible to the average techno-illiterate consumer.
Taping radio has traditionally been the most popular way for consumers to find, collect and explore music without buying every interesting song they hear, and has only recently been usurped by illegal file trading and CD duplication, and the growing apathy toward the limited formats of most radio stations - there just isn't much of interest outside the mega-conglomerate corporate radio playlists.
BUT... you wouldn't give up your right to vote just because there wasn't a candidate you favored, and you wouldn't give up your right to vote just because your candidate was a certain win, so why would your treat these rights as any different?
The RIAA is aiming and steadily moving towards a pay-per-listen model of music distribution and every avenue of consumer controlled music they seal off is a step in that direction.
Posted by skeptik (590 comments )
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You're missing something huge.
Sirius now broadcasts directly to Dish network receivers. I can use the PVR function to copy 24hrs worth of digital music, complete with visual tags of the songs as they playback.

Once I have the PVR, I can copy the hard drive contents and turn the 24hr broadcast into as many MP3s as I like. It's even easier if your computer is hooked up directly to the receiver.

I can record lots of streams in that manner. And that's just Dish. If I own a home XM receiver and my outputs are digital or optical-digital, I have crystal clear copies, lacking only tags.

So this is expected from RIAA, which seeks to find revenue under every rock imaginable. I wouldn't find their tactics so despicable if the damn DMCA was never passed; that piece of legislation might be the worst since Prohibition.

Remo
Posted by Remo_Williams (488 comments )
Link Flag
this is not a non-issue...
recording off the airwaves is legal, and digitally speaking, it's perfect. So realizing the promise of this digital recording technology (or 'tivo' for internet radio) solves the P2P problem but it also destroys and dismantles the current networkings of the RIAA, all large radio companies (clear channel) and their relationships with record labels. consider a nation of 'garageband' users newtorking together through the internet to produce and broadcast/ftp their own compilations without distributors (middle men) where the product's profit is used to support it's creator? isn't it about time we get rid of the AM/FM 'dial'? we're in the new millenium!
Posted by (1 comment )
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Encryption? Are you mad?
I live in a country which has reasonably well established unencrypted over-the-air digital TV, and the beginnings of digital radio, which (as far as I know) no-one has suggested encrypting: the UK.

I find it astonishing that anyone would suggest trying to lock down (and hence lock people out from) the broadcast media. Surely radio even more than TV is characterised by intense competition for listeners; it cannot possibly be practical to administer the controlled distribution of decoder keys, let alone build the technology in to the receivers, or expect listeners to bother carrying around a keycard.

If the RIAA have their way, the US will never get significant DAB uptake.

Oh, and it's a crazily offensive assault on fair use too.
Posted by duncangibb (7 comments )
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Amen!
Duncan, all I can say is 'Amen' to your comment. It is good to hear that UK does not have the same ridiculous controls bordering on 'lunacy'. Well, problem with the RIAA, SCO and others in the U.S. (I am American) it trys to extend it's control globally. But, it is just impractical and can't be done. Has it stopped mp3 swapping? The genie's out of the lamp and you are not going to stick him back into the lamp. It's a shame that newer, better quality digital radio comes along available for the benefit of all, and we have to be 'forced' into becoming backwards about the matter, simply because of selfish issues of politics, legalities, and greed factors.

Jerry
Tokyo, Japan
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
RIAA, frighteningly Close to SCO
RIAA is overstepping the line. They are getting almost as obnoxious as SCO, thinking that the whole world owes it to them. For example, SCO didn't say 'boo' over the years about Linux, until it (SCO) began to take note of Linux' rising popularity and penetration. Now, SCO, like a crybaby, is complaining and staking claims and wants a piece of the action. If they were so concerned about Linux and it supposedly violating it's so-called, 'proprietary' code years ago, then why did SCO not take note and speak up 'years' ago, literally.

Now we have RIAA, the new crybaby on the block, wanting to 'control' every thing. Up to now they didn't make a whimper about controlling the radio waves or people recording from the radio. I can understand to some extent, their concerns about mp3 swapping. But now, they want to stifle, inhibit, control radio broadcast too? It resounds frighteningly close to dictatorship and censorship to say the least. Might as well censor or destroy all the cassette tapes that exist around the world too, and include voice recorders, line out to line in loop recording, etc. RIAA, wake up! We are in a new era, the digital era now, not the dark ages. The times they are a changing... as Peter, Paul, and Mary once sung. Change is inevitable. Rather then 'fight' the technology or try and control radio broadcast, accommodate it and assimilate it.
RIAA is overstepping the line. They are getting almost as obnoxious as SCO, thinking that the whole world owes it to them. SCO didn't say 'boo' over the years about Linux, until it began to take note of the rising popularity and penetration. Now, SCO, like a crybaby, is staking claims and wants a piece of the action. If they were so concerned about Linux and supposedly it violating it's so-called, 'proprietary' code, then why did SCO not take note and speak up 'years' ago, literally.

Now we have RIAA, the new crybaby on the block, wanting to 'control' every thing. To some degree I can understand their concerns about mp3 swapping. But now, they want to stifle, inhibit radio broadcast too? It resounds frighteningly close to dictatorship and censorship to say the least. Might as well throw out all the cassette tapes that exist around the world too, voice recorders, line out to line in looping, etc. To RIAA I say, wake up! We are in the digital age now, not the dark ages. The times they are a changing... as Peter, Paul, and Mary once sung. Change is inevitable. Adjust to change. Rather then 'fight' the technology or try and control radio broadcast, accommodate it and assimilate it.
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