Shapiro: Keep Digital Content at Home

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Las Vegas -- Consumers should not fear lawsuits from music, video, or other creative industries if they restrict their use of digital content to where they live or where they go, Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro said Monday morning.

But Shapiro did not address what happens if consumers try to share such content with friends or family, in their home or elsewhere.

“We believe a consumer should not be in legal jeopardy if they do something with lawfully acquired content and keep it in their home,” Shapiro said in his opening address to the 40th International Consumer Electronics Show here.

“We agree that content creators must be compensated,” he added. “We share the aversion to those who steal content without authorization and resell it. Commercial piracy is wrong. But we draw a different line on what is acceptable in the home with content that [a consumer has] been authorized to receive.”

Shapiro said the CEA hopes to support legislation this year that will protect consumers from legal attacks on their use of digital content or the ways they use it to create new mash-ups or other forms of digital programs themselves. He added that such legislation should protect companies “launching new products where the copyright laws are unclear or where the inventor does not intentionally or directly infringe copyrights.”

While not naming names -- like Sling Media, the inventors of the Slingbox, which throws digital content across the world over the Internet to wherever a recipient’s PC takes them -- Shapiro said inventors of new ways of conducting content-based businesses should not be stifled just “because they are different and change the world and the businesses we knew a generation ago.”

The CEA, he noted, launched a campaign called Digital Freedom at a site it now operates to create a series of rights for consumers using and creating digital content.

Those rights include protection from legal threats while consumers are using digital technology “in their homes, cars and on the go.”

But that does not go to the heart of the most hotly debated uses and reuses of digital content, where individuals use content they’ve acquired, even legally, and find ways to share it on the Internet. What happens to music and video content that gets shared on so-called peer-to-peer networks of PCs or content-sharing sites -- such as the “broadcast yourself” site, YouTube -- is left open.

He did not shed light on how far consumers can or should be allowed to go beyond the home, car or “on the go” with content they have purchased or legally acquired.

In the pre-digital era of content creation, consumers could make copies of programs and albums they acquired and hand them to friends under the fair-use doctrine of the Sony Betamax legal ruling. But the worldwide handoffs allowed by the Internet change the dynamic.

Nonetheless, Shapiro said, quoting an unidentified philosopher: “In the end, we will listen to the voices of the machines. There is no choice. We cannot go back to the candles.”

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