CEA Attacks RIAA 'Audio Flag' Demand

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) this week issued a harsh rebuke to the Recording Industry Association of America's efforts in lobbying Congress to force on the industry an "audio flag" in all digital broadcasts that would prevent them from being recorded.

The RIAA is fearful that the advent of digital broadcasts enables individuals to make near-perfect recordings of content streamed over the airwaves. For example, satellite and HD radio offer customers CD-quality sound, which could pose a threat to music sales if people are able to save individual tracks for later listening, the RIAA claims.

As a result, the RIAA has demanded that Congress mandate a special "flag" be included with all digital radio that would tell a hardware device the content could not be recorded. The television and movie industries are pushing for a similar feature be included in digital TV broadcasts, but the effort has met fierce resistance.

The problem, the CEA explains, is that the RIAA is arriving late and refusing to take part in the Copy Protection Technical Working Group, which was established to help prevent mass redistribution of copyrighted works over the Internet. The RIAA is attempting to push through its own agenda, CEA president Gary Shapiro says, which threatens "fair use" and the consumer electronics market at large.

One major stumbling block is that these digital technologies are already on the market, without an audio flag. If Congress were to legislate such a requirement, current devices could become illegal and companies forced to pull products from stores at cost of billions of dollars.

The CEA is also concerned that the right of consumers to make limited copies and recordings for their own private listening would be squashed if the RIAA has its way. The RIAA sued XM Satellite Radio in May over a device that lets users save songs, demanding $150,000 for every song recorded by customers.

"As we have repeatedly said, we are prepared to discuss ways to limit the mass indiscriminate redistribution of music over the Internet. Instead, the RIAA wants to ban 'disaggregation,' which it now calls 'cherry picking' in the hope that it can give legitimacy to its policy ideas by using a sweeter name," said Shapiro.

"In short, the RIAA wants to stop consumers from doing what they've been doing since a tape recorder was first used to capture a song played over the air for private use. The recording industry's campaign over disaggregation is nothing but a thinly veiled attack on lawful, private, noncommercial, in-home consumer recording practices."

The CEA adds that the RIAA hasn't even proposed any technical specification for an audio flag, and chides the music industry for what it calls "misguided lawsuits and overly broad legislation."

"The RIAA's interest lies solely in preserving its existing ways of business, with the hope that it can maximize profits by limiting innovation and undermining long-standing consumer rights," said Shapiro, noting that, "the RIAA should not be surprised that we will continue to fight its legislative efforts on Capitol Hill, and that we expect to prevail by defending innovation and consumer rights."

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