Record industry, electronics biz clash over copyright

WASHINGTON — The consumer electronics industry is claiming the entertainment biz is trying to outlaw VCRs and home computers. The entertainment industry says the electronics companies care more about protecting copyright pirates than intellectual property.

At issue is a bill supported by the entertainment industry that is supposed to make it more difficult to violate copyright law in the digital era. One provision of the bill outlaws the sale of a device designed “primarily for the circumvention” of copyright protection.

Both the entertainment and the software industries are counting on sophisticated encryption technologies to protect their works in a digital era where it is easy to produce perfect copies of works and distribute them around the world via the Internet.

But the Home Recording Rights Coalition insists that the bill, as it is now written, would outlaw the currently common practice of taping copyrighted material for home use. It also claims that the bill would ban personal computers because they have the ability to download and copy material from the Internet.

“We believe that is exactly what this legislation will do,” said Consumer Electronics Manufacturing Assn. spokesman Jonathon Thompson. After the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that included the language, the Home Recording Rights Coalition began running print ads stating its claim that the legislation would outlaw VCRs and PCs. The Home Recording Rights Coalition is chaired by the CEMA president Gary Shapiro and is funded by consumer electronics companies.

In response, the Creative Incentive Coalition, a group funded by software makers such as Microsoft and entertainment companies including Time Warner and Viacom, insists the bill will do nothing that affects VCRs or home computers. And Creative Incentive began running its own ads, which state bluntly in large letters, “They’re wrong.” The ad goes on to say that “Nothing in the legislation will change or make illegal the home recording and research Americans now enjoy.” The ad also states, “Only illegitimate devices that illegally invade electronically protected material would be outlawed.”

The dispute will come to a head Thursday when the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to take up the issue. If the consumer electronics industry fails to win headway, it may begin campaigning against the legislation, which must be passed in order for the U.S. to ratify the World Intellectual Property Organization Treaty. That treaty would establish global protections for copyrighted material on the Internet and is enthusiastically supported by the entertainment, publishing and software industries.

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