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Digital Denials

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 20, 2002 2:09 am   Post subject: Digital Denials Reply with quote

Consumer Reports - September 2002

The wonderful world of digital entertainment has begun to give consumers some nasty surprises. Take the class-action lawsuit filed against five major record companies in June by two Californians. They say that the CDs they bought were defective. According to the complaint, the CDs do not work properly in many personal computers, CD players, car stereos, and video-game consoles.

This is not mere happenstance, says William Doyle, an attorney at Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach in San Diego, lead firm for the plaintiffs. The defects, he argues, are a stealth effort by the music industry to modify standard CD technology to inhibit piracy. But such efforts also keep consumers from legally making copies for their own use and playing recordings on devices of their own choosing.

The Recording Industry Association of America says that so far only three CDs manufactured in the U.S. are copyprotected with encryption. But under discussion are all kinds of software code that would make it impossible for the average consumer to copy DVDs, electronic books, and TV programs for later use, says Graham Spencer, co-founder of Digital Consumer, a group lobbying for a consumer-technology bill of rights. "We want to raise grassroots awareness about what's happening," he says.

Already, the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it unlawful for consumers to circumvent encryption or other access controls. On the horizon is legislation that could further restrict consumers' freedom to hear music, see films, and read digital books when and where they want: the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act. The bill requires manufacturers of computers, DVD players, TVs, and other devices to install controls that would automatically follow the electronic restrictions put on content by publishers, studios, and music labels. So, if a music producer didn't want you to copy any cuts from a CD, you wouldn't be able to burn tracks of your favorite songs.

Driving the legislation is fear of piracy. Publishers, movie studios, and music producers have plenty to worry about. In this digital age, when works can be copied infinitely with no loss of clarity and then sent out over the Internet, owners of such works stand to forfeit billions of dollars in legitimate earnings.

The entertainment industry has a right to protect its works and those of its artists from theft. But consumers have rights, too. From the nation's beginning, copyright laws, while guaranteeing artists and writers ownership of their works, also promised that the people who bought such material could use it as they wish. Under the doctrine of first sale, the purchaser of any work has the right to sell, lease, lend, or give away the copy. Fair use--another limit to the owner's rights--allows copying for personal use and in libraries.

Consumers Union has urged caution in the wholesale adoption of access controls to prevent piracy. Such technological fixes not only would curb consumers' enjoyment of their own property, but also could cut sales of new computers and other devices that come hobbled with restrictive software. Vigorous prosecution of those guilty of massive theft would seem to be a better tactic. The majority of honest consumers, after all, are willing to pay for their music, films, and books.
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