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Media Distribution Rights: Here Come The Judges (And Congress)

Consumer watchdog groups are sounding the alert about pending restrictions on media content usage.
"There's more legislation pending now than anytime that I can remember," says Robert Schwartz, general counsel of the Home Recording Rights Coalition, an industry watchdog group. "For many years media companies were focused primarily on distribution outside the home; now they've turned their attention to inside the home. Their attitude is: This is our content, why should consumers be able to do whatever they want with it?"

Three of the bills that have received the most attention include the Audio Broadcast Flag Licensing Act of 2006; The Platform Equity and Remedies for Rights Holders in Music (PERFORM) act of 2006; and The Digital Transition Content Security Act. Here's a brief rundown of what each of them would mean for consumers and manufacturers:

The Audio Broadcast Flag Licensing Act of 2006, sponsored by Rep. Michael Ferguson, R-N.J., would require that every device capable of receiving digital television broadcasts build restrictions against redistribution of those programs into the product design. Content would contain "flags" that would in essence say that the content was protected and unable to be copied, moved, or redistributed; devices would have to be redesigned to include the capability to recognize those flags.

The Platform Equity and Remedies for Rights Holders in Music (Perform) Act of 2006, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would prevent consumers from breaking up music tracks downloaded or captured from a broadcast. This would eliminate their ability to do what they currently do with standard MP3 players, unless they pay for individual songs: this would include storing individual song tracks, searching by title or artist, or creating playlists. The music recording industry is also asking that the regulations require that recordings be tied to the recording device, thus not allowing transfer between, say, MP3 players and PCs.

The Digital Transition Content Security Act, introduced in December by Reps. F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and John Conyers, D-Mich., and better known as the "Analog Hole Bill," would force makers of any analog video input device that converts content into digital form to impose severe restrictions on the functionality offered.

This would impact a broad range of devices, including DVRs, video capture cards, and other devices that convert analog signals into digital data. As with the Audio Broadcast Flag Licensing Act, this bill would require redesign of a whole range of currently legal consumer devices, including DVD recorders, personal video recorders, and camcorders with video inputs.