Copy Control Law Draws Online Outcry
WASHINGTON -- Hundreds of worried consumers have heaped the Senate Judiciary Committee's Web site with disapproval of a pending digital copyright protection bill.
The measure, introduced in late March by Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings,
"Congress and the courts have traditionally upheld my right to freely use content that I have legally acquired," writes Mike Skallas of Chicago, in the
"Tightening everything down might actually prevent illegal copying," adds Israel Smith of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. "But in the process, it prevents normal legal consumers from having a product that is usable. I see copy-protection as the media industry shooting itself in the foot."
A search of the responses early this week produced no favorable comment from consumers, and staff members could not say whether any positive reaction was received.
Hollings's bill would require future digital media devices like DVD players and CD burners to have built-in copyright-sensitive hardware. It builds on the 1998
"Any bill that prevents the copying of all videos and audio, that removes the 'record' button, is obviously too general, too vague, too controlling," says Andrew Fuller of Portland, Oregon.
Hollings maintains he is looking out for consumer interests. Piracy of copyrighted material contributes to the media companies' reluctance to display their digital material on the Internet, he argues.
"By unleashing an avalanche of digital content on broadband Internet...we can change this dynamic and give consumers a reason to buy new consumer electronics and information technology products," Hollings says.
But some consumers deny that a lack of available media is what's keeping broadband from breaking full-swing into the market. Scott Neugroschl of West Hills, California, writes, "I have never heard anyone say, 'I'd get broadband if only there were high quality content from Hollywood available.' No, what I hear is, 'I'd get DSL or a cable modem if it was available in my area,' or 'I'd get DSL or a cable modem if it didn't cost a fortune.'"
Large media companies like Disney and Sony claim
Clearly, consumers are not convinced. While the bill promises to protect fair use, it does not specify how. Many fear that media companies will use the opportunity to impose even stricter regulations on digital content.
"[The bill's] efforts to preserve 'the limitations on the exclusive rights of copyright owners, including the fair use doctrine'--and to restrict security measures that would bar even perfectly legal copying--appear half-hearted and insufficient," says Denise Howell of Newport Beach, California.
The measure has also drawn opposition from consumer advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is a watchdog for civil liberties online. Also lobbying against mandatory copy protection is DigitalConsumer.org, representing several Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.
Richard Taylor, a spokesperson for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), says the bill is being grossly misrepresented. "All we're saying is, let movies and music be protected, and let legitimate use win over illegitimate use. We have to make sure people pay to use things," he says. In fact, the legislation urges the technology industry and copyright owners--Hollywood--to settle on "security systems standards" within a year, or Congress will step in with its own solution.
"Why do some have to cast it as an ominous thing?" Taylor adds. "[The bill is] saying both sides have to sit down and talk--for the benefit of consumers. Let's resolve this so we can fairly access digital products in a digital world." He also points to the clause asking the tech industry and copyright owners to find an answer, or face Federal Communications Commission regulation.
"This bill is a challenge, not a horrible pox on our culture. If reasonable parties can come to reasonable agreements, standards can be put in place," Taylors argues.
Among those who staunchly believe the Hollings legislation will leave consumers the losers is Joe Kraus, founder of Excite.com and the consumer advocacy group Digitalconsumer.com. He says, "The Hollings bill does nothing to protect fair use. Until fair use or personal use rights are clearly asserted, media companies are going to deny that they exist."
While the legislation promises to dispel pirates and also protect fair use, Kraus simply doesn't believe both are possible. "The ironic part is that it won't work," he says. "A standard for copy protection is as premature as a standard for teleportation."
A common consumer complaint is that the bill treats people as would-be criminals, while failing to catch the real ones who deliberately pirate digital content.
"It treats consumers as thieves," says Lisa Martincik of Coralville, Iowa. "Ironically, [the bill] will make currently law-abiding consumers into thieves."
The problem is the impasse between media companies who fear copyright infringement and tech companies who oppose any standards of copy protection, says a representative of Hollings.
"Hollings's preference is not to legislate," the spokesperson says. "The concept is, how can we eliminate, as best as possible, illegal copyright infringement, while driving up consumer confidence?"
Jack Valenti, MPAA chief executive officer, said in a recent statement that "the goal of a digital environment that is respectful of copyrighted creative works is well within the reach of the parties."
But at least according to those who answered the Senate Judiciary Committee's call for comments, that goal is nothing short of unattainable.
"A vote for this act is a vote against the consumer," says Chris Slater of Rice Lake, Wisconsin. "A vote for this act is also a vote to allow mega corporations to control every citizen's lives."