September 17, 2002 4:08 PM PDT

Trade group: P2P not illegal or immoral

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After months of making low-key complaints, a consumer electronics maker trade group on Tuesday launched a bitter attack on record labels' and movie studios' anti-piracy campaigns.

In a speech given at a storage technology conference in San Francisco, Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro blasted the copyright owners' "scorched earth" legal and policy drives. He also warned policymakers against passing new legislation without serious scrutiny of labels' and movie studios' claims.

"The entire theme of the copyright community is that downloading off the Web is both illegal and immoral," Shapiro said, according to the text of his speech. "It is neither."

The speech marks Shapiro and the consumer electronics community's boldest recent statement against the record companies' and movie studios' efforts. The group's words place it squarely in the midst of a cross-industry backlash to the copyright holders' war on Internet piracy, however. ISPs (Internet service providers) and technology companies have separately made their own displeasure public in recent weeks.

For the most part, consumer electronics companies have been careful to say that they are working with copyright holders to find an appropriate balance between consumer and copyright holder rights, and that they respect the labels' and studios' goals.

But the heightening rhetoric leveled at people who download movies and music off the Net, and the bills introduced in Congress that would force electronics companies to change the way they make their products, have brought matters to an unacceptable situation, Shapiro said.

"The copyright community has declared war on technology and is using lawsuits, legislatures and clever public relations to restrict the ability to sell and use new technologies," Shapiro said. "Content providers would be served better by working with technology companies to deploy (anti-piracy technologies) rather than suing everyone and lobbying Congress."

Record and movie studios have blamed a decline in record sales on the spread of Internet file-sharing and unauthorized CD burning. Fast-rising downloads of movies online threatens to have a similar impact on movie industry profits, studios contend.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) recently said that CD shipments for the first half of the year were down nearly 7 percent. The music industry group pointed to consumer behavior studies it said showed that people who use file-swapping networks tend to buy fewer CDs.

The motion picture industry has been even more aggressive in petitioning Congress for help against what it perceives as online threats. Several controversial bills have been introduced that would force computer and technology companies to add anti-piracy features to their products and would let copyright owners use hacker-style attacks on peer-to-peer networks that have been used to swap billions of copies of their products.

In his speech, Shapiro hit several familiar notes, saying that the music and movie companies should not "whine" about the inability to compete with free file-swapping services, and instead should "should stop complaining so much and look for technological solutions to its own problems."

Much of the last few years has been dedicated to looking for "technological solutions," however. The music-industry sponsored Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) and several movie industry-backed efforts, both with participation by technology and consumer electronics companies, have spent considerable time looking at different ways to protect content against illegal copying.

Most of these efforts have broken down after the various participants have found themselves unable to agree on a solution.

 

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