12.02.2002 12:00 PM
CEA lobby: “They're sailors, not pirates”

The Consumer Electronics Association has drawn a line in the sand over the hardball tactics that major copyright holders are playing with consumers. Last week lobbyists for the consumer electronics manufacturers came out in defense of students whose computers were seized at the U.S. Naval Academy and over published reports that students could face expulsion for having downloaded content onto computer hard drives.

The CEA made its statements through its Home Recording Rights Coalition (HRRC), a name it uses to lobby for consumer rights to use home electronics products manufactured by its member companies.

“Unfortunately, this is the type of Orwellian response that stems from the overreaching efforts of some members of the content community who seek to demonize young people who share copyrighted content for non-commercial personal use,” said Gary Shapiro, president of the CEA. “Unless there are facts in this case of which we simply are unaware, the Naval Academy's response to written requests from the Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of American (MPAA) to crack down on campus piracy seems unusually severe. As we have said before, not every download constitutes theft.

“Restricting or punishing those students who are the most attracted to technology—those who likely are among the best and brightest—could inflict further damage by discouraging all students who may first be exposed to new and innovative technology at the collegiate level from using or even learning about technology's benefits,” Shapiro said.

The Academy's action, the CEA chief said, underscores the critical need to develop a balanced, common sense approach to legitimate concerns about transmission of copyrighted content over the Internet that respects copyright while preserving established fair use rights. The Academy recently seized the personal computers of more than 100 students suspected of downloading music content. The students could be expelled.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) indicated that it might be preparing to bring criminal cases against ordinary consumers who engage in file “swapping” over the Internet. In a public statement a DOJ official indicated that such criminal copyright infringement cases may be filed against individual consumers under the “NET Act,” a law passed in 1997 to make “hacking” by individuals a criminal act, even when not done for profit.

The CEA maintains that even where particular consumer practices may be controversial, private, noncommercial home recording practices should not be lumped in with piracy. The organization said the NET Act was never meant to upset the balance under the copyright law between the rights of copyright owners and the consuming public. Any such legislation, if offered today, would be highly unpopular.

For more info on the CEA’s HRRC website, visit www.hrrc.org.

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