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Gateway ads urge 'Rip, Burn, Respect'

The computer maker is launching a campaign to tout its digital-music services and educate consumers about what "rights and responsibilities" they have.

Computer maker Gateway is launching a high-profile ad campaign designed to advertise its digital-music services and educate consumers about what "rights and responsibilities" they have in using digital music.

Dubbed "Rip, Burn, Respect"--a not-so-oblique reference to Apple's "Rip, Mix, Burn" campaign of 2002--the television ads that will saturate the United States beginning Thursday night aim mostly at showing how Gateway's digital-music packages simplify online music.

While the ads themselves don't go into detail, they do contain a pointer to a Web site that goes into more detail about what consumers should and shouldn't do, including admonitions that engaging in online file-trading and taking copied CDs from other people hurts artists. With this site, and with a more direct education campaign, aimed at teens, planned for later in the spring, Gateway says it is trying to clear up confusion over what consumers actually can do with their music and their computers.

"Our concern is that some in the recording industry have created a real sense of ambiguity and confusion among consumers as a consequence of (the industry's) antipiracy efforts," Gateway spokesman Brad Williams said. "We agree that piracy is a major problem. But we're very concerned that consumers' fair use rights can be swept up and lost in the antipiracy debates."

Since launching digital music-themed commercials last year, Gateway has been at the front of the technology industry's backlash against Hollywood and the music industry's push for stronger antipiracy protections. The PC company, like many others, thrust itself into the debate after the introduction of legislation that would have required all computers, stereos and other "digital devices" to have built-in copy-protection technologies.

Gateway, which has seen CD burners and other digital music or multimedia accessories help drive sales over the past two years, saw that legislation as a direct threat to its business. Its 2002 ad campaign showed CEO Ted Waitt listening to a burned CD, with the tag line: "Gateway supports your right to enjoy digital music legally."

Even Thursday's ads remain controversial to some. CBS--owned by Viacom, the parent company of Paramount Pictures and assorted other film, music and publishing ventures--says it is still reviewing the advertisements. If the spots are deemed to violate the network's ban on "advocacy" messages, they will not be run, CBS spokesman Dana McClintock said.

That rejection would not be tied to the ad's specific message--any advertisement that takes sides on a controversial subject would similarly be blocked, McClintock said.

The new campaign, while ostensibly directed at confusing messages coming from the recording industry, almost seems to be fighting last year's battles, however.

The heart of Gateway's education campaign is "fair use"--a legal term that stops short of being an absolute right to use copyrighted content but does serve as a defense against copyright-infringement suits in many cases of academic or personal use. On Gateway's Rip, Burn, Respect site, the company notes that consumers have the "privilege" to make copies of their own CDs, or transfer music they've bought to MP3 players.

In fact, the language is not terribly different than what the Recording Industry Association of America itself says. RIAA Chief Executive Officer Hilary Rosen made many of the same points at a recent speech in front of the National Association of Recording Merchandisers, the trade association for record stores.

"The argument is that somehow the record companies seek to encroach upon a consumer?s ability to make a personal copy of music," Rosen said there. "Nonsense. We have always been supportive of the ability of consumers to copy a CD for the gym or for their car...The problem is with the student who burns 100 copies for his friends in the dorm or makes available hundreds of files for uploading onto Kazaa."

The RIAA also recently joined a coalition of technology companies in opposition to government antipiracy technology mandates such as those contained in last years' controversial legislation. Rosen did say then, however, that she expected more "technical protection measures" to be implemented by hardware and software makers.

Gateway's ads themselves, as opposed to the associated Web site, focus more on sales than education. They feature a montage of young, hip-looking actors citing digital music buzzwords--"mix," "bit-rate," "peer-to-peer," "encryption," "playlist," "burn," and so on--without saying which of the practices suggested by the words the company encourages or discourages. "Music is getting complicated. Gateway makes it easy," the ads say.

The kicker is a digital-music offer for new Gateway computer buyers. For an extra dollar, customers can get a month of free service on Listen.com's Rhapsody service, including 50 free CD burns, 100 free MP3 downloads from Emusic.com, 20 free recordable CDs and a CD labeling system.

Using that package should be an education in itself, the company said.

"It's a huge trial opportunity to show people that playing by the rules is actually pretty fun," Williams said.