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8/1/2007
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Tech Group Fights Copyright Absolutism At The FTC

The CCIA claims media and sports organizations have systematically misled consumers with regard to their legal rights to use content.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a tech industry trade group that counts Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo as members, Wednesday filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission to protect consumers from overreaching copyright claims made by sports and media companies.

The complaint is part of the CCIA's DefendFairUse.org initiative, which aims to expose "how media and sports organizations have systematically misled consumers with regard to their legal rights to use content, and to protect those rights in the digital age."

The organizations named in the complaint include the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), NBC-Universal, Morgan Creek Productions, DreamWorks, Harcourt, and Penguin (USA).

The alleged misrepresentations of copyright power made by these companies violate the FTC's prohibition on unfair or deceptive trade practices, according to the CCIA.

"Every one of us has seen or heard that copyright warning at the beginning of a sports game, DVD, or book," said Ed Black, CCIA's president and CEO, at a National Press Club press conference. "These corporations use these warnings not to educate their consumers, but to intimidate them."

For example, Major League baseball games are routinely accompanied by the warning, "This copyrighted telecast is presented by authority of the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball. It may not be reproduced or retransmitted in any form, and the accounts and descriptions of this game may not be disseminated, without express written consent."

The CCIA complaint dismisses that assertion outright. "The claim that news accounts or 'descriptions' of the game cannot be 'disseminated' is manifestly false," the complaint states. "... Yet the leagues purport to prohibit every unauthorized post-game water-cooler conversation, notwithstanding that a sports league is constitutionally barred from obtaining any copyright over the facts of the games that it produces."

Will Rodger, director of public policy at CCIA, hesitated to say how politicians might react to his organization's effort to combat copyright absolutism, but said he hoped it would raise some questions.

"This will shine a light on what a lot of people on the Hill have not been aware of," said Rodger. "If I were a member of Congress and I had been listening to certain members of the content community talk about all these law breakers out there, and suddenly I saw this clear evidence of their deliberate misstating of other people's rights under the law, in particular consumers, I would look with renewed skepticism at their claims. This cuts right to their credibility."

The CCIA is taking this stand for fair use because CCIA members see that copyright misinformation is making consumers less receptive to new digital media products and services. "Evidence suggests that consumers are confused about their rights to use legally acquired media and forgo the use of legitimate products and services out of confusion or fear," the CCIA said.

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