Consumers: RIAA still not thinking of us

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The Recording Industry Association of America Inc. (RIAA) and two major IT trade groups have agreed on the direction public policy for copyright projection should take, but representatives for a couple of consumer groups say the agreement may still hurt Internet users.

On Tuesday, the RIAA, the Business Software Alliance, and the Computer Systems Policy Project announced an agreement on how they want the U.S. Congress to deal with copyright protection. Members of the three groups have warred in the past over how best to kill unauthorized song sharing, but the new agreement calls for the government to stay away from mandating copy protection.

However, Jonathan Potter, executive director of the Digital Media Association, said the agreement is less than a "landmark" move, as BSA president and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Robert Holleyman called it.

"I think it was essentially a non-event," Potter said. "The only meaningful change would be the RIAA's agreement not to support government-imposed technical mandates that are intended to protect copyright owners."

But the RIAA and the other groups still support the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it illegal for consumers to circumvent copy-protection devices, Potter said, and the agreement supports marketplace copyright protection efforts. While the RIAA is now asking the government to lay off, it's still threatening consumers with legal action if they share files illegally, he noted.

"If Hollywood and RIAA get technology companies to work in collusion with them to put any kind of restrictions into the hardware we buy that Hollywood and RIAA wants, then the public is still hurt, because we can't bypass those restrictions legally," added Brett Wynkoop, a member of New Yorkers for Fair Use and a free software advocate.

Wynkoop remains concerned that the RIAA may try to take away such consumer rights as making copies of songs for their own use, he said, and that copy-protection technology, including Microsoft Corp.'s Palladium security initiative, may eventually keep consumers from using software not approved by Hollywood or IT giants.

But Jonathan Lamy, a spokesman for the RIAA, said the group continues to believe fans should be able to make personal copies of songs they own. "The difference is when you make 100 copies for everyone in your dorm, or 50 copies for your friends, or you upload everything you own," he said.

As for concerns about enforcement, Lamy acknowledged that the RIAA would continue to consider legal steps against copyright violators. "If people are violating our rights, we have every right to enforce those."

The RIAA did take the small step of distinguishing itself from the Motion Picture Association of America, which still supports government mandates, said Potter, whose group represents several Web companies. Late Tuesday, MPAA president and CEO Jack Valenti issued a statement saying his group was not ready to abandon efforts to get copy protection measures passed in Congress.

But that split in tactics between the two major entertainment trade groups existed before Tuesday's announcement. Last March, when U.S. Senator Fritz Hollings introduced his Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act, RIAA chairwoman and CEO Hilary Rosen expressed only lukewarm support for the bill. Rosen said then that the RIAA preferred a market-driven approach instead of the South Carolina Democrat's mandated copy protection on all digital devices.

"Arguably, that's meaningful," Potter said of the differences between the two groups. "The RIAA has 100 years of legacy content in an unprotected format that's already in the marketplace and has already been pirated. The only question ... is when are the record companies going to actually meet the consumer in the marketplace instead of trying to hit the consumer over the head with a hammer."

Rosen promised Tuesday to keep the public's interests in mind as the RIAA and IT industry work on copyright protection. RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy said the marketplace would be the ultimate arbiter of what consumers want.

While the RIAA continues to complain that piracy is rampant, the sharing of free music over peer-to-peer networks isn't what the majority of consumers want, Lamy said.

"I think consumers want to be able to enjoy music online," he added. "As Hilary has said many times before, the record companies have probably not moved as quickly as we should have to be online legitimately, but we certainly are now, and we have made tremendous progress in the past year."

A number of legal music download alternatives now exist, Lamy noted, "and we think fans will gravitate toward those sites."

But Wynkoop said he's "shocked and surprised" that the RIAA would do what the public wants. "What I think the public at large really expects, is that for anything they've legally obtained, they have the traditional rights they've always had to use it as they see fit," he said.

Still, Wynkoop said Tuesday's agreement gave fair-use activists some comfort.

"Apparently, we've shown Hollywood that they're not going to be able to get Washington to do things, because Washington now realizes that the public has other opinions," Wynkoop said. "The public isn't going to stand for their rights being blatantly taken away from them, but that doesn't mean the content cartel has given up on trying to tell us how the digital world should run."

This story, "Consumers: RIAA still not thinking of us" was originally published by PCWorld.

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