EFF, CEA support digital media bills in Congress

With Hollywood pushing content owners to tighten control over digital media usage, new legislation has been introduced in Congress designed to support the rights of consumers to freely use media for personal use.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, and Rep. Rick Boucher, D-VA, introduced legislation designed to respond to several Hollywood-backed bills that favor the rights of media companies and copyright holders.

Lofgren's bill would ensure consumers could copy CDs, DVDs and other digital works for personal use, just as they now do with TV shows and audiotapes. Essentially, it would retain the rights consumers currently enjoy with analog media.

Neither of the new bills stands any chance of passage with Congress now winding down this year’s session. However, the proposed legislation lays the groundwork for possible action in the next Congress.

The legislation would amend a 1998 law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, to allow consumers to bypass protection systems to make a copy for personal use.

The proposed bills clash with Hollywood-backed proposals, filed by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., and Rep. Howard L. Berman, D-Los Angeles. These proposals would embed copy protection into PCs and other consumer devices. It would also permit the music and film industry to legally use aggressive anti-piracy technologies to stop unauthorized downloading over the Internet.

The proposed consumer-friendly legislation drew strong support from consumer organizations. The Electronic Free Foundation (EFF) said it strongly supports Rep. Boucher's Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act of 2002.

The bill’s CD labeling provisions, the EFF noted, will make certain that consumers know what they are getting when they buy music CDs. If record labels choose to sell “copy protected” CDs that offer consumers less for their money than the CDs they are accustomed to, these dysfunctional CDs should, at a minimum, be prominently labeled.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) also announced support for the new consumer-friendly proposals. “Consumers feel strongly about preserving their fair use rights,” said Gary Shapiro, president of the CEA. He noted that a recent CEA study found that 80 percent of consumers believe it is not illegal to make a copy of a CD or DVD for their own personal use or for use by someone in their family.

For more information visit www.ce.org and www.eff.org.

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