By Peter Henderson
SAN FRANCISCO, May 14 (Reuters) - Soon, if you want to mixyour own music and copy it onto a compact disc for the gym orthe road, you are going to need a lot more than a fancy CDdrive for your computer. You are going to need a new law.
That, anyway, is the view of Internet pioneer turnedvirtual organizer Joe Kraus, who has proposed a technology"Bill of Rights" so consumers can legally copy music andtelevision programs in the digital age, just as they have donefor decades with audio and video tapes.
Digital music is so easy to copy it has spawned rampantpiracy, and a wave of laws and bills aimed at stopping it, manyof which are now being debated in Congress -- and Hollywood.
"Consumers are really losing these rights quickly andsilently," says Kraus, who founded Internet portal Excite.combut now works full time on DigitalConsumer.org, an onlineconsumer advocacy group.
"We're all used to mixing tapes, we're all used to lendinga book to a friend. All those things we're used to doing are inthe process of being eroded," Kraus said.
Years after music-trading program Napster's debut -- andlong after a court ordered it shut down for allowing piracy --CD burning, the process of copying music and other media onto acompact disc, is hitting the mainstream.
Personal computer maker Gateway Inc. sells more thanhalf its computers with drives which can write CDs, creatingmixes of songs with perfect quality.
It is fine to do that, according to the legal concept of"fair use", which allows a person to copy content they haveacquired, or a bit of content they don't own -- like quoting abook in a book review -- without permission of the copyrightowner.
As it gets easier to make infinite, perfect copies withdigital technology, copyright owners want to make this slightlyfuzzy fair use concept cut and dried. Kraus argues they aregoing too far by taking aim at the technology itself.
For example, content makers want to limit copying ofdigital television and prohibit retransmission over the Net.
"If my son is in a TV commercial, I'm in New York and mywife is in San Francisco, I can't send a copy (of thecommercial) to her via e-mail. The digital standards don'tallow any retransmission over the Internet," says Kraus.
That's where the Bill of Rights comes in. It has sixpoints, and he gives examples of what they mean:
-- the right to time-shift -- lets you watch a tape of atelevision show after it was broadcast
-- the right to space-shift, which means you're allowed tomake your own CDs for personal use, like jogging or otherout-of-home listening
-- the right to make backup copies
-- the right to look at content on the platform of yourchoice, meaning you can watch a DVD on a computer instead of aTV
-- the right to translate content into comparable formats,which would let a blind person read a book with atext-to-speech program
-- the right to use technology to secure the rights above:This is the kicker. Some new CDs can be read by audio CDplayers but not by computer CD drives. This would let you use aprogram to overcome that anti-copying technology, for instance.However, if you bought a license to a song for a weekend andthen used technology to keep it longer, breaking the contract,you would not be protected.
Since it was founded in mid-March, DigitalConsumer hasreceived requests from some 35,000 people to request more than100,000 faxes in favor of the bill be sent to legislators, andKraus hopes to find Congressional sponsors soon.
BUY HARDBACK, PAPERBACK FREE?
But consumers may also want to consider the argument ofmovie and music makers, who say unfairly broad fair use lawswould give them no incentive to keep producing, since everyonewould be sharing, not buying.
Cary Sherman, senior executive vice president and generalcounsel of the Recording Industry Association of America(www.riaa.com), a group of music and music video producers,endorses letting consumers copy their music onto computers andsays the industry is working on ways to let that happen.
But the right to copying is not unlimited, he says. Krauswants to be able to lend a digital book, but Sherman wants tostop people going into publishing.
"What now has changed such that if I buy it once, I'mentitled to use that content forever, in any format of mychoosing? It means that if I buy a hardcover book, I'm allowedto get it in paperback without paying anything more so that Ican have one at the beach house?" he asked.
"There are all these leaps of judgment here, just becausetechnology has made it possible."
Gateway's Brad Shaw, senior vice president of marketing,declined to endorse the proposed consumer Bill of Rights, buthe encouraged consumers to follow links on www.gateway.com toDigitalConsumer and other advocacy groups.
"Get smart. Get out there and educate yourself," he said.