Copy-protected CDs may not be legal
By Greg Wright
Gannett News Service
A backlash is mounting against copy-protected music CDs. One member of Congress says the discs may violate consumers' right to freely listen to music.
As a result, record companies could face legal and legislative pressure to abandon efforts to encrypt music CDs so consumers can't copy or "rip" their songs to home computers to make custom mixes, archival backups or to download songs to portable devices, such as MP3 players.
"We have got a battle on our hands," said Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., who serves on the House's telecommunications and Internet subcommittees.
BMG Entertainment and Universal Music Group have experimented in recent months with copy protection on CDs sold in the United States and Europe.
The Recording Industry Association of America says copy protection is necessary to stop rampant music piracy on the Internet. Music labels shipped more than 900 million CDs valued at $13 billion in the United States in 2000, but the industry says it's losing millions of dollars because some consumers rip songs and distribute them free on the Web.
But hundreds of American consumers who bought Universal's CD soundtrack of the film, "More Fast and Furious," complained on the Internet that it would not play on Windows and Macintosh computers, car CD players and the Sony PlayStation 2 video-game console, which also can play music CDs.
The same thing happened last year in Europe after BMG sold two Natalie Imbruglia albums that included copy protection.
Even more people are upset that copy-protected CDs prevent them from transferring their favorite songs to portable digital music players or burning them onto customized CDs, Boucher said.
"I believe if you buy a CD, you should be able to rip it on your computer for your own personal use," said Mark Hewer, a musician who lets fans download some of his songs for free on MP3.com. "I mean, after all, you've paid for it, right?"
Copy protection could violate the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act, which gives consumers the right to duplicate digital music for personal use, Boucher said. That law also compensates the music industry with royalties collected from the sale of music recording devices and blank media, such as CDs and cassette tapes.
Boucher raises a valid point, said Gary Klein, vice chairman of the Home Recording Rights Coalition. Copy-protection software that prevents consumers from playing CDs on various audio devices and copying discs for personal use probably is illegal, he said.
However, the Home Recording Rights Coalition doesn't believe consumers should be able to post songs from store-bought CDs on the Web for other people to share, Klein added.
Boucher has asked the recording industry to study the impact of copy protection on listening habits, which the industry is doing, according to Jano Cabrera, a spokesman with the Recording Industry Association of America.
At present, music labels don't plan to copy protect all new CDs sold in the United States, he said, but some organizations and individuals are rallying efforts in case the music industry changes its mind.
Cincinnati resident Chuck Heffner, 37, is keeping a tally of copy-protected CDs released around the world at the fatchucks.com site. He said visitors have reported more than 75 discs with copy protection. The music industry says is lower.