Content interests on high alert in lame duck session

With the shift of political power in Washington, the current lame duck session of Congress has policy watchers on the lookout for attempts at stealth legislation that might be slipped through without scrutiny.

A big fear in this post-election session is that Republicans will try to pass a bill that would bar consumers from making copies of digital and satellite radio transmissions.

The National Journal’s Tech Daily reports that outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, (R-Tenn.), who is soon retiring from Congress, supports “audio flag” anti-piracy technology because of his ties to the Nashville music industry. They point out that Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, is Frist’s former chief of staff.

Earlier this year, the Senate Commerce Committee included the audio flag in its telecommunications bill, but a House-passed telecom bill omits the provision. Meanwhile, Mike Ferguson, a Republican from New Jersey, has a pending bill — H.R. 4861—that would implement the audio flag.

Both the Consumer Electronics Association and National Association of Broadcasters oppose such legislation. Spokesman Dennis Wharton said the NAB will “vigorously oppose” any effort to pass the legislation. The CEA’s Michael Petricone echoed Wharton’s statement

The RIAA has previously used a lame duck session for a sneak attack, Petricone noted. In 1999, the group added language to the Satellite Home Viewer Act that he argues took rights away from artists and gave them to recording labels, Petricone told the Journal.

Even those members who support copy protection for video think the audio flag is “not ready for prime time.”