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Senators introduce bill to restrict Internet, cable, and satellite radio recording

A new bill introduced in the US Senate this week would force satellite, digital, and Internet radio providers (but not over-the-air radio) to implement measures designed to restrict the ability of listeners to record audio from the services. Called the “Platform Equality and Remedies for Rights Holders in Music Act” (PERFORM), the bill is sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Joseph Biden (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). If the name of the bill sounds familiar, it should. The bill was originally introduced in April 2006 with the support of the RIAA. It died in committee, but the senators are hopeful that the bill will pass this time around. Like its predecessor, the new legislation would require content protection on all satellite radio broadcasts along with cable and Internet broadcasts. Broadcasters would be required to “use reasonably available and economically reasonable technology to prevent music theft.” But that’s not bad for consumers, says Sen. Feinstein, who tells us that “consumers’ current recording habits” will not be inhibited as they will still be allowed to record by time period or station. However, they would be prevented from automatically cherry-picking all the Shakira songs from the services. The bill would also get the government into the business of price controls, with content providers required to pay a predetermined “fair market value” for the use of the music libraries. If another company decides to enter the unprofitable satellite radio market in the future, it too, would be forced to pay the same rates as XM Radio and Sirius. The music industry’s overexaggerated fears of piracy are driving the legislation, just as they did last year. “New radio services are allowing users to do more than simply listen to music. What was once a passive listening experience has turned into a forum where users can record, manipulate, collect and create personalized music libraries,” said Sen. Feinstein. “As the modes of distribution change and the technologies change, so must our laws change.” Yesterday, Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) announced legislation that would prevent the FCC from creating exactly the same kind of technology mandates that the PERFORM Act would require. At the time, Sen. Sununu said that “misguided requirements distort the marketplace by forcing industry to adopt agency-blessed solutions rather than allow innovative and competitive approaches to develop.” The Consumer Electronics Association was quick to voice opposition to the PERFORM Act. “We are disappointed that this legislation, which faced vocal bipartisan opposition last year, has been reintroduced just as consumers are about to enjoy incredible innovation from new content devices launched at the 2007 International CES this week,” Michael Pettricone, the CEA’s senior vice president of government affairs, told Ars in a statement. “This bill has absolutely nothing to do with piracy, the Internet, or peer to peer redistribution. Instead, it would assault the freedom of consumers to use content they have lawfully acquired for private and noncommercial purposes in the privacy of their homes and vehicles. We will continue our effort to inform lawmakers of the dangers of this legislation to our digital economy and to long established principles of fair use.” Under the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992, consumers have the right to make noncommercial analog and digital copies of broadcasts. That would change if the PERFORM Act passes this time around, as the ability to record music for one’s own personal use would be restricted, marking another erosion of consumers’ fair use rights. Be sure to let your senators know how you feel about this legislation.

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