Major Consumer Groups Ask Congress To Strengthen Digital Copyright
Consumer Federation of America
HR 107 Protects Fair Use, Promotes Innovation
Congress should act to restore the rights of consumers to use digital materials, such as DVDs and CDs in ways protected by traditional copyright law, three major consumer groups said Wednesday.
In joint testimony to the House Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee the groups, Public Knowledge, Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America endorsed legislation (H.R. 107) sponsored by Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) , John Doolittle (R-Cal.) and House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.), that would correct some parts of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, and Chris Murray, legislative counsel for Consumers Union, testified at the hearing.
The legislation, the “Digital Media Consumers’ Rights Act of 2003,” would require CD makers to label their products to let consumers know of any technical restrictions or limitations on their use. The bill would also make clear some of the fair use exemptions that would allow consumers to circumvent copy protections if no copyright violations were involved.
“This is a vital piece of legislation that will make sure consumer rights are protected, and that the accepted copyright standards of fair use will continue to be applied,” Sohn said.
Murray said that “copyright law is being abused to shut out competition in everything from garage door openers to printer cartridges. The law is broken, and this bill is a significant first step towards putting it back on track.”
Mark Cooper, research director of the Consumer Federation of America, added “The American consumer is driving the digital transition. Consumers’ rights that the Boucher bill would restore are essential to this transition both as a matter of principal and as a matter of encouraging a market climate that supports technological innovation and economic vibrancy.”
Now, makers of CDs are not required to put any labels on their products to tell consumers what devices may or may not play them. Consumers are not aware that copy-protected CDs may not play on personal computers or other non-compatible CD players due to copy protection technologies, the testimony said.
Labeling requirements in the Boucher-Doolittle bill “will enable consumers to make informed purchasing decisions and eliminate the confusion created by seemingly ‘defective’ CDs that do not play on all devices,” the testimony from the groups said.
“No consumer should purchase a CD only to be surprised that it does not play on his or her computer or CD player. The DMCRA will create an informed marketplace where competition among new CD formats can prosper without consumer confusion,” the groups said.
In addition to urging approval of the bill on consumer protection grounds, the groups also told the subcommittee that the legislation contains important provisions to make certain that consumer rights to use digital material are protected. The legislation would ensure that legal, non-infringing uses of digital copyright works are not prohibited by the 1998 law.
The groups said that consumer rights in the digital age have been whittled away. According to the testimony: “The DMCA has gone from being a law that was intended to protect digital copyright material against unlawful infringement to one that chills free speech, stifles research and innovation, harms competition in markets having nothing to do with copyright, places undue burdens on law abiding consumers, and protects particular business models at the expense of fair use and other lawful uses of copyrighted works.”
Interpretations of the DMCA have led to the erosion of consumer rights so that many users are prevented from fast-forwarding through advertisements on DVDs, DVDs can’t be played on some computers and some DVDs are coded differently in different countries. The U.S. Copyright Office has not upheld its responsibilities to allow for lawful use of digital material, the groups said.
The American consumer is driving the digital transition. But protection of consumers’ rights is essential to this transition both as a matter of principle and as a matter of encouraging a market climate that supports technological innovation and economic vibrancy. H.R. 107 provides an opportunity to make needed changes to the DMCA in ways that preserve the rights of consumers, the groups said in their testimony.
“Unfortunately, even as the amount of digital content is increasing, thanks to the DMCA, consumers’ rights to use that content are being stripped away,” the groups added.
View the testimony of Consumers Union, Public Knowledge and Consumer Federation of America (PDF).