Mitch Glazier, the association's top lobbyist, said the RIAA is contacting IT and consumer electronics groups to ask them to consider a "broadcast flag" for digital music sent through the Internet, satellite or cable.
The RIAA's move seems likely to escalate a bitter war of words between the entertainment industry, some hardware makers and open-source aficionados. On Monday, CEOs of some of the largest tech companies including Intel, IBM and Microsoft in a letter to their counterparts in Hollywooda "market-based approach to standards-setting" instead of new government regulations.
Glazier mentioned the new initiative during a roundtable discussion hosted by the U.S. Department of Commerce on Wednesday afternoon and elaborated on it during an interview afterward. "The device would say this is broadcast material not meant for redistribution," he said.
The idea is straightforward: Future hardware and software would treat music differently if it were designated as broadcast-only, preventing users from saving it or uploading it. Currently programs like StreamRipper or StreamCatcher can record streaming music distributed through Webcasting.
But because people might not use these new kinds of music receivers if given a choice, new federal laws likely would be necessary to compel software and hardware manufacturers to abide by the broadcast-only designation. Senate Commerce Chairman Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., introduced a related bill earlier this year that would restrict technology that does not adhere to government-approved "standard security technologies."
Webcasters appeared to be taken aback by Glazier's announcement, saying that they had not been contacted.
Rob Reid, chairman of Listen.com, said his company was "one of the Webcasters that's not aware of this new initiative."
Reid wondered how big of a problem the recording of Webcasts really was, saying that most pirated music he's seen appears to have been ripped from CDs instead of intercepted from streaming audio.
Glazier, the RIAA's senior vice president of government relations and a former House aide, said the broadcast flag "would basically prevent people from using new technologies like StreamCatcher and StreamRipper."
StreamRipper, included with FreeBSD--an open-source version of Unix--is free software released under the GNU General Public License. StreamCatcher glues a Mac OS X interface onto StreamRipper and, according to StreamCatcher, allows people "to download an entire station of music."
Glazier said the conversations with industry standard groups, which he declined to name, were preliminary but positive and started a few weeks ago. "It's really the same model for what's already been happening on the video side," Glazier said.
A standards body called the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group is in the process of devising standards for digital television. It's been criticized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and open-source activists for limiting the creation and distribution of legal copies of digital TV broadcasts.
Cindy Cohn, the EFF's legal director, says that "they're trying to cram this idea of a broadcast flag down the throats of the consumer electronics devices."
"You'd see that fair use would pretty much go away," Cohn said, referring to the RIAA's new initative. "If you get content and it's marked broadcast-only, your device won't let you cut and paste or do anything the copyright holder doesn't want you to do."