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Senators aim to restrict Net, satellite radio recording

Music industry backs the effort, but digital rights groups say it would erode users' music-listening freedoms.

Anne Broache Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Anne Broache
covers Capitol Hill goings-on and technology policy from Washington, D.C.
Anne Broache
4 min read
Satellite and Internet radio services would be required to restrict listeners' ability to record and play back individual songs, under new legislation introduced this week in the U.S. Senate.

The rules are embedded in a copyright bill called the Platform Equality and Remedies for Rights Holders in Music Act, or Perform Act, which was reintroduced Thursday by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). They have pitched the proposal, which first emerged in an earlier version last spring, as a means to level the playing field among "radio-like services" available via cable, satellite and the Internet.

By their description, that means requiring all such services to pay "fair market value" for the use of copyright music libraries. The bill's sponsors argue the existing regime must change because it applies different royalty rates, depending on what medium transmits the music.

But the measure goes further, taking aim at portable satellite radio devices, such as XM Satellite Radio's Inno player, that allow consumers to store copies of songs originally played on-air. The proposal says that all audio services--Webcasters included--would be obligated to implement "reasonably available and economically reasonable" copy-protection technology aimed at preventing "music theft" and restricting automatic recording.

"New radio services are allowing users to do more than simply listen to music," Feinstein said in a statement. "What was once a passive listening experience has turned into a forum where users can record, manipulate, collect and create personalized music libraries."

The Recording Industry Association of America applauded the effort and urged Congress to make passing the legislation a top priority this year. The lobbying group sued XM last year over a music-storing device offered by the service, arguing that it should have to pay licensing fees akin to what Apple pays to run its iTunes download service.

"We love satellite radio," RIAA CEO Mitch Bainwol said in a statement. "But this is simply no way to do business. It's in everyone's best interest to ensure a marketplace where fair competition can thrive."

XM Satellite Radio spokesman Chance Patterson called the proposed legislation "ill-advised" because, among other things, it would "harm consumers' long-protected recording rights." The company is making "good progress" in resolving what he referred to as "a business dispute with our partners in the music industry" and, besides, satellite radio outfits already pay royalties, he said.

In what the bill's sponsors describe as an attempt to avoid "harming" songwriters and performers, the Perform Act makes distinctions about what sort of recordings listeners would be allowed to make, according to a copy of the bill obtained by CNET News.com.

Radio listeners would be permitted to set their devices to automatically record full radio programs on certain channels at certain times. But allowing users to program their devices to automatically find and record specific sound recordings, artists or albums--say, only all Michael Jackson tracks played on the service--would be prohibited. So-called "manual" recording would be allowed, as long as it's done "in a manner that is not an infringement of copyright."

In addition, the services would have to employ technological protection measures that prevent people from "separating component segments of the copyrighted material" contained in broadcasts. And they would be required to restrict users' "redistribution, retransmission or other exporting" of all or part of copyright music to other devices--unless the destination device is part of a secure in-home network that also limits the scope of automated recordings.

It is unclear how the proposed requirements would affect software recorders. A Mac OS X utility called StreamRipperX, for instance, permits songs from Internet radio stations to be saved as unprotected MP3 files. If future versions of such software tried to circumvent the digital rights management (DRM) technology used in encrypted broadcasts, they would almost certainly violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Digital rights advocacy groups vowed to fight the proposal. A similar bill of the same name introduced last spring encountered considerable resistance from such groups and individual Webcasters, even spawning an opposition Web site.

Opponents argue the proposed rules would stymie users' ability to record music off the radio. And by forcing Webcasters to blanket their content with DRM schemes, they would essentially erase the possibility of editing broadcasts for personal use and would potentially make the shows interoperable with fewer portable players.

Under current law, Webcasters must pay royalties to record companies and may not assist their users in recording their Webcasts, but they do not have to employ DRM. Most streaming radio stations, including those operated through Live365, ShoutCast and Apple's iTunes, use an open MP3-streaming format.

The proposal "remains a fundamental assault on consumers' reasonable rights and expectations about home recording and fair use in any modern context," said Robert Schwartz, general counsel to the Home Recording Rights Coalition.

Gigi Sohn, president of advocacy group Public Knowledge, said she sympathized with calls for streamlined music licensing but blasted the bill as "a direct attack on the satellite music industry and on nascent terrestrial digital radio." She said the bill attempts wrongly to equate download services like iTunes with radio services.

"This bill looks to the past rather than to the future," she said in a statement, "by limiting the ability of consumers to use material to which they have subscribed and by limiting future innovations in electronics."

CNET News.com's Declan McCullagh contributed to this report.