June 21, 2004 7:26 PM PDT

Tech heavies support challenge to copyright law

The copyright cold war between Hollywood and Silicon Valley is about to heat up.

Skirmishes between content-producing companies seeking expansive copyright protections and hardware and telecommunications corporations on the other side have resulted in a legislative deadlock on Capitol Hill.

Some of the most influential technology companies are planning to announce on Tuesday an alliance that they hope will end the impasse. Called the Personal Technology Freedom Coalition, its purpose is to coordinate lobbying efforts in opposition--at least initially--to the most controversial section of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Currently, that controversial section of the DMCA broadly says no one may bypass a copy-protection scheme or distribute any product that is "primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing" copy protection. The movie industry, record labels and many software publishers are fiercely protective of that section of the law, saying that digital rights management, or DRM, systems backed up by the law are necessary to reduce piracy.

But members of the nascent coalition, including Sun Microsystems, Verizon Communications, SBC, Qwest, Gateway and BellSouth, are lending their support to a proposal by Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., to rewrite that part of the DMCA. Boucher's bill says that descrambling utilities can be distributed, and copy protection can be circumvented as long as no copyright infringement is taking place.

One participant in the coalition, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said its members already have met with representatives of more than 20 congressional offices. Their sales pitch: Beyond harming "fair use" rights, the DMCA also endangers computer research vital to national security.

Other members of the coalition include: Philips Consumer Electronics North America, the Consumer Electronics Association, the American Library Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America, Public Knowledge, the American Foundation for the Blind, the United States Telecom Association, and the Computer and Communications Industry Association.

Boucher's bill, called the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act, would also grant the Federal Trade Commission new authority to regulate copy-protected compact discs. It gives FTC bureaucrats the power to police music sales by ensuring that copy-protected discs are labeled as such and are not simply called "CDs," which could be misleading to consumers. Such labels would have to say that the copy-protected discs might not play properly in standard CD players, and that they might not be recordable on PCs or other devices that can record standard CDs.

U.S. record labels have been slower than their European and Asian counterparts to add copy locks to releases in the American market, fearful of consumer backlash and complaints about incompatibility. But the top seller in last week's stores, the debut album by hard rock act Velvet Revolver, was wrapped in antipiracy technology.

Industry insiders said the album's success despite prominently displayed stickers warning that it was "protected against unauthorized duplication" was likely to lead to more copy-protected releases in the United States. Still, earlier this month, Universal Music decided to stop adding the technology to discs sold in Germany, according to Billboard magazine, a potential sign that regulations regarding labeling could discourage some record companies from using DRM for fear of losing buyers.

Regardless, Boucher's drive to grant the Federal Trade Commission new authority to regulate copy-protected discs with labels has drawn criticism from at least one group that otherwise applauds Boucher's goal of amending the DMCA. The free-market Cato Institute, which convened a conference that Boucher spoke at last week, called the proposed FTC powers another big government power grab.

"Bringing in the government to impose certain types of mandatory labeling schemes or new technological mandates is a little bit troubling to us," said Adam Thierer, Cato's director of telecommunications studies. "A lot of this seems to be an anti-DRM backlash that's developed as part of the Boucher bill. We've had groups say that DRM is the devil, that by locking up content, private interests have gained too much control over copyright."

To Thierer, it's far better to treat the race to scramble and descramble content as a kind of market competition that should be unfettered by the DMCA--or new FTC rules: "The better approach is to let content owners lock up their work, but (to) take away the advantage that the DMCA gives them."

CNET News.com's John Borland contributed to this report.

6 comments

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Goose and Gander
All it would take for the record, movie, and other industries that are really trying to enforce that section of the DMCA to "see the light" is to have someone encrypt all their master copies of their songs, digital movie files and other media. DCMA says ANYONE who breaks, decrypts, reverse engineers anything that has been encrypted in order to prevent copying is subject to DCMA fines. So if someone broke in and encrypted their files, even if they own the copyright, the company itself would violate this act if they tried to decrypt files.

Poetic Justice.

Putting ANY protection scheme onto a fixed media is fraught with danger.

78 RPM records made in 1921 can still be played. If the DCMA had been around in the 1920s NO ONE could play them anymore because to decrypt the encoding - even if the copyright has expired - is not allowed. Nor could anyone purchase a player if they wanted to. 60 or 100 years from now will companies be willing to build HARDWARE to decrypt and play 75 year old DVDs? The companies who MAKE DVDs (or whatever) certainly would not want them to since they could sell NEW versions to people instead of people playing old copies. Even now buying a DVD in Australia, playing it there fine, then taking it back to the USA means it is UNPLAYABLE due to the region codes built into it. Can you exchange it for a correct one for free? NO! The big enterpaintment companies want you to purchase another copy to play in the USA region.

Every time copyright has about to expire on well known items the big entertainment companies have banded together and got Congress to extend copyright protection retroactively to cover them. ie: the items are not bound by the law at the time created but current time in the law. This has nothing to do with them recovering the money used to make the item, but just a legal monopoly with no anti-trust oversight. By 2014 you will see another extension on copyright to 100 years to continue the monopoly.

DCMA is just another tool in the monopoly enforcement to force people to purchase new copies of what they own already as technololgy advances and their old copies have no equipment to play on.

Tom Philo
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.taphilo.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.taphilo.com</a>
Posted by taphilo-2003685639374287843630 (130 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Media freedom is at stake
The solution is simple:
CD to PC...end it there
I just don't want to lose the advantage the roomy HDD that are comming out nowdays. This is the age of organization. If It can't get on my HDD, NO SALE!
If I have to lug around a bunch of CDs I'd rather not buy!
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
I will not buy...
...any "copy-protected" disc that I cannot rip and transfer to my MP3 player. Period.

It's cliche, but you cannot stop file-sharing. There's got to be a way to make it a viable, and legal, method of music distrubution.

SO. Does anyone have a eDonkey or torrent link for the Velvet Revolver CD?

Futhermet
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Never mind
Never mind, I found a link.
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
What do we need copyright laws for?
Copyright laws were made for the benefit of the public. They are meant to prevent a situation were the creation of content the public can benefit from is not discouraged because of economic reasons: i.e., it costs too much, or cannot make money to support the creator of the content.

Recorded music in particular was ruled by the US supreme court about a century ago to be uncopyrightable. Later the law was changed to make it copyrightable. One can argue that it was essential back then because otherwise it would be impossible to use the technology: recording was expensive back then. But nowadays recording is cheap, and so is distribution of music through the Internet. Millions of artists can record their work at low cost and distribute it using the Internet. But there also a "recording industry" that doesn't want the competition from millions of freelance artists. They want to limit the seletion to a few thousands of artists that they choose. Before recorded music was invented there were many artists everywhere. Recorded music reduced their numbers. A few that are backed by corporations are heard all around the world. Now it is possible to return to the state of having much more active artists, without geographical limitations. But it would hurt the business of some people that have become rich by controlling the available selection. And to avoid losing control they want to make sure that no indepedent artist would be able to record using standards that would be allowed on consumer audio devices.

I think that what is really needed is losening up some copyright laws. It's in the public interest. The public doesn't need to support expensive mass distribution of a few artists when it can allow for the cheap distribution for millions of artists.

There are other aspect of copyright laws that are bad for the public: copyright laws are used by software producers to disallow the fixing of malfunctioning systems. If your car is broken you are allowed to fix it. If your OS is broken you are not even allowed to check what's wrong with it. You are not allowed to get the information needed to fix it. At most you are allowed to replace it completely at your own expense.
Posted by hadaso (468 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If I can see it or hear it, I can pirate it.
Unless they take away all recording devices, piracy will continue.
The only cure is to make the cost of the media undermine the
effort required to duplicate it. Digital distribution and marketing
allow artists to circumvent bulky music labels and their
overspending (and charging) ways to turn greater profits while
saving the consumer tens of dollars (per album or appreciated
equivalent--say one to five tracks) by only charging about $.25/
song, and having fewer people to pay. Similarly, video media
outfits should be aiming toward online distribution and reduced
costs. The future sees consumers own less physical portable
media and pay small fees for instant and remote access to
centralized media.
Posted by (1 comment )
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