Groups criticize music DRM legislation

Consumer rights groups oppose a US bill that would require Internet broadcasters to use DRM technology

Consumer rights groups have voiced opposition to legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress last week that would require Internet broadcasters to deploy DRM (digital rights management) technology to prevent listeners from making unauthorized copies of music files.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and three other senators introduced the Platform Equality and Remedies for Rights Holders in Music (Perform) Act Jan. 11 after the same piece of legislation failed to pass through Congress in 2006. The Perform Act would require all satellite, cable and Internet broadcasters to deploy "reasonably available" copy-protection technology and to prevent listeners from using recording devices to copy specific songs or artists.

The bill would not prevent listeners from recording at specific times, such as a news show at 9 a.m., but it would require broadcasters to use copy-protection technology that would prevent listeners from recording all the songs by one artist played on a broadcast, Feinstein said in a news release.

"New radio services are allowing users to do more than simply listen to music," Feinstein said in a statement. "What was once a passive listening experience has turned into a forum where users can record, manipulate, collect and create personalized music libraries. As the modes of distribution change and the technologies change, so must our laws change."

But the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Public Knowledge oppose the legislation. The bill would be a "backdoor assault on your right to record off the radio," the EFF said. The Perform Act would prohibit digital and satellite radio services from offering TiVO-like recording options, the EFF said.

The Perform Act would prohibit streaming music formats that don't use DRM, such as the MP3 format used on several Internet radio services, including Apple Inc.'s iTunes streaming radio stations, said Fred von Lohmann, senior intellectual property lawyer at EFF. The bill sets a "bad precedent for our copyright laws," von Lohmann wrote on the EFF blog. "Over the course of a century, our copyright laws have responded to changing technology not with government technology mandates, but rather by letting new business models evolve ..."

Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, said she agrees with parts of the bill that streamline music licensing fees. But the DRM provisions place limits on consumers, she said.

"This bill looks to the past rather than to the future by limiting the ability of consumers to use material to which they have subscribed and by limiting future innovations in electronics," Sohn wrote on the Public Knowledge Web site. "It confuses a radio service, in which a consumer can only record what is currently being played, with a download service, in which consumers pick the material to download.

But Feinstein argued that musicians and songwriters need to get paid for the music they produce, instead of having consumers record it for free. "I believe this legislation is a good step forward in addressing a real problem that is occurring in the music industry, and I encourage discussion to ensure that this law will fully serve the needs of our emerging technologies," she said in her statement.

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