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CEA, EFF Announces “Digital Freedom Campaign”

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The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), in connection with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and several other groups, today announced the launch of the Digital Freedom Campaign. The stated goal is to kick start a grass roots effort to restore balance to copyright law, which they believe has swung too far in favor of protecting the interests of publishing agencies at the expense of consumers, creators, and manufacturers. The initial funding will come from the CEA, with the hopes of encouraging grass roots support as the advocacy effort gains momentum in its aggressive campaign.

Derek Slater of the EFF stated at the press conference that the entertainment industry has treated its fans like criminals by proposing “draconian restrictions” on their use of media, and that the efforts have done little to curtail piracy but have had the effect of trampling fair use. Slater further advocated that part of this campaign would be to push Congress to restore the traditional values of copyright law.

As an initial effort by the campaign, CEA’s CEO and spokesperson Gary Shapiro announced the launch of a new website, which will serve as an educational tool and critical piece of Digital Freedom’s grass roots efforts. As a matter of introduction, three vignettes, available on the website, were played for the members of the press. It showed an entrepreneur who had been unable to develop his product due to the work of the entertainment industry, a filmmaker who had been sued for including a five-second clip of the nightly news in his film project, and a young woman how had been stifled for being unable to transfer her media between devices in her own home.

The video was a bit on the theatrical side, but it certainly served the admitted purpose of advocacy well.

Part of the goal of the campaign is to expand what has been traditionally a battle between manufacturers and innovators, and the entertainment industry. As pointed out by Slater, this battle has been going on since the landmark decision in Universal Studios Inc. et al. v. Sony, commonly known as the “Betamax” case. In that case, the movie industry was railing against Sony’s innovative product, which allowed television shows to be recorded and watched later. The Court held that this was acceptable, and the result has been an industry of personal media portability from VCRs through Tivo.

The Digital Freedom Campaign hopes to expand this battle to include three types of individuals: innovators, creators, and consumers. All three of these groups are negatively affected by the current copyright climate, which restricts every aspect of media and seeks to prevent devices that allow for open use of media from even being made.

Essentially, the Campaign makes clear that what is needed is a new vision for copyright, where content no longer belongs just to large companies, or even to small filmmakers, but to everyone. As was pointed out, we live in a nation where the penalty for downloading a song in your home is greater than for stealing the entire CD at retail. Something has to change – let’s hope that this new initiative adds the muscle to make it happen. For more information, check out the newly launched website.

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