Norwegian party pushes for legal file sharing

Group seeks to replace DRM with a compensation fund that gives consumers more say in how they use downloaded music or software

A small Norwegian political party has called on the government to ban DRM (digital rights management) and legalize file-sharing, responding to growing consumer opposition in the country to restrictive controls on downloading and duplicating content from the Internet.

Norway's liberal party, Venstre, approved a resolution on Sunday seeking, among other things, to limit technologies, such as DRM, that limit how consumers can use and distribute legally purchased digital music or software.

"We have a unique opportunity in the world to distribute culture, ideas and knowledge in a way that was never possible before," said party spokesman Jonas Stein Eilersten. "We believe our resolution is a big step in this direction."

Venstre demands changes to current copyright legislation in Norway to prevent consumers of digital products in the country from becoming "criminals," Eilersten said.

On its Web site, the 123-year-old Norwegian party said that while lawmakers managed to establish a compensation model when the photocopier was introduced, they have yet to find a suitable model for online technologies.

To compensate artists or software companies for use of their digital products, Venstre proposes that consumers pay a special fee for broadband usage or hardware storage. "Users could pay, for instance, one euro for 100 gigabytes of storage," Eilersten said.

The money would go into a fund to pay artists or software companies according to how many times their music or software applications have been downloaded.

File-sharing sites could also use advertising as a means to generate revenue for reimbursing copyright holders, he added.

"We see from many of the commercial sites today that consumers are willing to pay for content they download from the Internet," Eilersten said.

But the spokesman was quick to criticize the approach by Apple, which, with the help of DRM technology, has allowed songs purchased from its online music store to play only on its iPod portable music player.

"It's wrong for a company to be able to control the way you play a downloaded song," he said. "This is a way of using the market in a way that is against free-market principles."

Apple has taken steps to address the concerns, however. On April 2 it announced a plan with EMI Group to sell its music without copyright protection, and said it would encourage other music labels to do the same.

Apple's iTunes store will be the first to offer individual tracks from EMI artists in a new, DRM-free format that offers better sound quality but also carries a higher price.

The Norwegian Consumer Council has threatened legal action against Apple for violating Norwegian law by limiting iTunes customers to playing their music only on iPods. Consumer groups in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, France, and Germany have joined Norway's complaint against Apple.

The Norwegian government ombudsman has set a second deadline, Oct. 1, for iTunes to show how it plans to implement changes to its DRM.

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