Fair use, ‘event piracy’ share confab focus

Rival events by CEA, MPAA and RIAA stir pot

WASHINGTON — Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-La.) reiterated on Tuesday he supports a plan that would allow Hollywood to control the number of times some digital broadcast programming is copied, marking a shift away from a 17-year-old U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing consumers to record movies or favorite shows for home viewing.

Tauzin, chair of the House Commerce Committee, told a crowded conference on copyrights that entities like the Walt Disney Co. won’t want their wares aired by broadcasters if a certain amount of copy protection isn’t provided. Rather, the Mouse and others will turn to cable solely, creating a void for consumers still relying on free, over-the-air entertainment.

Tauzin was one of many speakers at the Digital Download confab sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Assn.

The afternoon was punctuated by drama when the Motion Picture Assn. of America and Recording Industry Assn. of America, along with other members of the Copyright Assembly, decided to hold a rival press conference at the same hotel.

CEA prexy Gary Shapiro said it was in bad taste, considering that the MPAA and RIAA were included in the digital confab. He said future speakers might be asked to sign a clause saying they won’t hold a press conference to plug an opposing point.

“It’s event piracy,” Shapiro declared.

Content monopoly?

Throughout the day, the CEA and several of its allies promoted the argument that, left unchecked, entertainment congloms will use copyright laws to justify a monopoly on content in the digital age, whether it’s movies streamed out over the Internet or aired on digital TV.

“Where are the consumer rights in all this? It will be a world in which the established media calls all the shots,” Napster veep for corporate and policy development Manus Cooney said.

Rap artist and Internet advocate Chuck D, giving one of the keynote addresses, said the RIAA “protects cowards called the record industry.” He encouraged other file-swapping servers like Napster to spread like “gremlins.”

MPAA veep and general counsel Fritz Attaway said studios and artists deserve to be compensated for their creations and that the same copyright protection afforded traditional media should likewise apply to digital distribution avenues.

Already, 350,000-400,000 movies are swapped free via the Internet each day, much like songs were swapped using Napster, Attaway said. Figure will hover around 1 million by the end of the year, he added.

“If anyone thinks this level of file-sharing doesn’t do harm … then you are a prime candidate to sell a bridge in Brooklyn to,” Attaway said.

Reduced rights

Giving the other keynote address, Tauzin said a federal appeals court in California really had no other choice but to rule against Napster, but that he greatly respects the spunk behind Napster’s evolution.

Tauzin said there’s no question that the entertainment industry needs copyright protection when it comes to the Internet and digital TV, even if that means taking away some viewer rights regarding recording for home viewing, a concept known as fair use.

The fair-use doctrine must bend to accommodate new technologies, Tauzin said. If a new technology can produce a countless number of perfect copies, then it may no longer be appropriate to let consumers copy everything they want, he added.

“So we see a great conflict in the land. And we may actually degrade consumers’ rights,” Tauzin said. “It’s a battle not yet settled.”

Holding to doctrine

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), however, told conference participants that fair use shouldn’t be so easily shunted to the sidelines, and consumers should still be allowed to copy what they watch on digital TV. He said he would advocate this position on Capitol Hill in the coming months.

At the same time, Boucher said he does support technology that would prevent all digital TV programming from being uploaded to the Internet.

Like several other key lawmakers, Tauzin said it’s crucial that the entertainment industry make its content available on the Internet as a show of good faith that it won’t hoard music and movies.

In one of the day’s more bizarre moments, a security patrol wouldn’t admit Chuck D. to the MPAA/RIAA press conference, mistakenly assuming he was with a separate group of Napster fans also blocked from attending the press event.

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