Org favors digital rights

Consumers create coalition to protect tech use

The content industry has mounted a “sustained assault” to block legit uses of new technologies, and it’s time consumers start fighting to take back their digital rights, a new coalition has declared.

Singled out were the movie and recording industries, which, in trying to protect aging business models in the digital era, have been exploiting copyright law reform, according to several public interest groups, some independent artists and technology companies that have banded together to launch the Digital Freedom campaign.

In a Wednesday press conference, coalition members — including a number of groups that have been making this argument for a while — maintained that “Big Content,” as they referred to the entertainment industry, is trying to control technology development and limit fair use via intimidation tactics and congressional lobbying.

Major record labels have sued more than 10,000 people for illegal downloading or file-sharing, and Hollywood successfully led the effort to stop online peer-to-peer services from profiting from similar activities. Industry reps have said this effort has been necessary to protect their rights and those of artists.

“Whether intended or not, these restrictions on technology muzzle free speech and put a straitjacket on creativity,” said Harold Feld of the Media Access Project, a coalition member.

“Congress must realize that this isn’t a war between artists and pirates. It’s a war by incumbents against disruptive technologies, where free speech is the collateral damage,” said Ed Black, prexy-CEO of the Computer and Communications Industry Assn., another member.

Campaign has posted a Web site (Digitalfreedom.org), and Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, said she plans to spend the next few months with various other groups and individuals to enlist their support.

Gary Shapiro, prexy of the Consumer Electronics Assn., some of whose member companies profit from technologies involved, framed the overall campaign as a defense of consumer rights. “This is to let the public know that they have rights to use new technologies without fear of being sued. We are going to fight back,” he said.

Members agreed that copyright laws need to strike a balance between protecting the rights of artists and of consumers, but they claim the laws are tipped in industry’s favor.

“The Consumer Electronics Assn. and other groups are unfortunately once again sounding a false alarm,” responded Motion Picture Assn. of America topper Dan Glickman in a statement. “Maintaining and enforcing strong intellectual property rights will protect American jobs, promote American economic growth and innovation and benefit all consumers.”

In a letter to the CEA, published Wednesday in a Capitol Hill newspaper, a group of musicians and songwriters stated, “To suggest that unauthorized downloading is neither illegal nor immoral — as you have — is not a mainstream position. To go so far as to recently label our efforts to protect our rights as ‘terrorism’ is offensive and worthy of an apology. You don’t advance the debate when you stake out extremist positions, engage in fear-mongering or broadly condemn a whole community for wishing to defend its lawful rights.”

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