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Weekly AUDIO NEWS for Feb. 13, 2002

CES Report 5 - Threats Loom to Consumer Use of Electronic Devices

The Home Recording Rights Coalition observed its 20th anniversary at the Consumer Electronics 2002 Show with a booth exhibit of what the future could be like if movie studios and recording companies are able to control the use of consumer electronic devices. Technology mandate legislation is now being considered in Congress that poses these threats. One threat is CD anti-copy encoding that impairs playing of said CDs on many types of portable and car players, making whether or not a CD can be copied for personal use pure guesswork, impairing the quality if recording is even possible; and moreover such encoding may be illegal anyway. Another threat is a pending FCC license that would hobble consumer electronics devices of all sorts which work on digital cable systems, also reducing the quality of HDTV programming to no better than NTSC TV.

The movie studios want legislation to force all electronic products sold to respond to hidden codes the studios would insert into their programming and published software that can turn outputs off and on. Gary Shapiro, HRRC chairman, indicated that the famous Betamax case has almost been forgotten even though no consumer recording devices since then have hurt box office - in fact “Hollywood never had it so good,” according to the January 4 Washington Post front page. The HRRC points out that asking the FCC to allow the movie companies to turn off consumers’ device interfaces at the studios' whim has nothing to do with their complaints about redistribution of their product over the Internet. Instead, they are based on a desire to exert absolute control over any and all viewing and recording in the home.

These controls may also be included in mandatory cable industry specs imposed the “POD Host Interface License Agreement” (PHILA). A license from the cable industry is required to make a connection between the security module (the POD) provided by a local cable company and the consumer’s device - such as an HDTV receiver. This license discriminates against competing manufacturers, does not at present allow a consumer digital recorder to be connected to cable, and “downresolves” programming transmitted to virtually all HDTV monitors sold to date.

Back in l992 Congress passed the Audio Home Recording Act (AHRA) after a long battle caused by the introduction of the DAT recorder. It said that consumers were free to make one digital copy of a digital disc (but not digital copies of copies). In consideration of this guarantee royalties were imposed on covered recorders and digital media, payable to music companies and artists. The new anti-copy technologies interfere with the consumer rights guaranteed by the AHRA, and the HRRC feels they are a violation of that law. For more information and to join online petitions to member of Congress and The Administration on these threats, visit www.hrrc.org

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