Groups launch Digital Freedom campaign

EFF, Public Knowledge and the Consumer Electronics Association aim to 'restore balance' to digital works

It's time for consumers, musicians and filmmakers to band together and advocate copyright laws that make sense for them, not for large music labels and movie studios, a group of advocacy groups said Wednesday during the launch of the Digital Freedom campaign.

Representatives of groups including Public Knowledge, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) said they will work for new copyright laws that "restore the balance" between protecting copyright works and allowing consumers to control where to listen to or watch digital works.

For too long, music and movie companies have won the fight in the U.S. Congress, restricting what consumers can do with digital content, said Gary Shapiro, CEA's president and chief executive officer. In the last 40 years, Congress has broadened copyright law more than a dozen times, he said.

"For 40 years now, the content industry has gotten a free ride," he said. "It's not just about a few big companies right now. It's about consumers."

Members of the new Digital Freedom coalition, with a new Web site at http://www.digitalfreedom.org/, said they will begin to offer alternative copyright proposals instead of a past focus on opposing new copyright restrictions sought by the music and movie industries. Several laws proposed in Congress during the last two years would restrict consumers' ability to play music or movies on devices of their choice, the group said.

But others questioned the goals of the Digital Freedom campaign. A number of groups representing musicians sent a letter to the CEA this week accusing the group of "ratcheting up the rhetoric" instead of working with the music industry.

"Our position is basic: artists, songwriters, music publishers, musicians and record labels deserve to be paid when our music is downloaded and enjoyed by fans," said the letter, signed by 11 music trade groups, including the National Music Publishers’ Association, Recording Artists’ Coalition and Recording Industry Association of America. "We ask that you recognize our right to make a fair return on the music we produce -- our innovation."

The Digital Freedom groups talked about balancing rights, but their focus was entirely on user rights, added Patrick Ross, senior fellow and vice president for communications and external affairs for the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a free market think tank. Groups like CEA want the cost of music and other Web content to drop to near zero, but if artists don't get paid, Web content will dry up, Ross said.

"We heard a lot of talk about rights, but no talk about artists' rights," he said. "Any talk about protecting rights has to protect the artists' copyright."

But participants in the Digital Freedom campaign said the balance between copyright and consumers' fair use rights have swung too far in favor of big entertainment companies and away from consumers and even artists. "If people cannot use digital media to express themselves to others without big content or big brother looking over their shoulder, the benefits of the digital revolution will be lost," said Ed Black, president and chief executive officer of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, a tech trade group.

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