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Shapiro Outlines CEA’s Copy Protection View

Gary Shapiro revisited his roots and a major issue that has faced and will continue to face the future of the consumer electronics industry — copy protection — with some informal remarks prior to the roundtable discussion on copy protection at the CEA Industry Forum & Fall Conference, here.

Shapiro, who joined CEA as government affairs director for the Electronic Industries Association (EIA) in 1982, worked on the landmark 1981 Betamax decision for a law firm representing EIA, and celebrated his 20th anniversary with the organization, spoke passionately about copy protection on the CE industry.

“Twenty-one years ago in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals here in San Francisco, October of 1981, the VCR was ruled illegal. It was called ‘The Vulture from Japan,”illegal and immoral’ by the entertainment industry. In 1984 the Supreme Court, by a five-to-four vote, made the VCR legal. If we had lost the Betamax case I daresay that most people in this room wouldn’t be here.”

While he cited his and the CE industry’s opposition to content piracy, Shapiro discussed the formation of the Home Recording Rights Coalition and the battles and compromises it made, and how it compares to today’s opposition of reproductions for fair use by the entertainment industry in the digital era. “We didn’t fight the ability to rent audio products. We have worked with the entertainment industry because you can’t restrict the future,” he said.

He noted that today “personal video recorders are under attack, peer-to-peer networks are under attack. If Sony Betamax [is legal] what is the legal question with new [digital] technology? How is new- generation technology illegal or immoral?”

Shapiro mentioned that during the Betamax days, making duplicates of content went from the term “‘reproduction’ to ‘copying,’ which is a pejorative term making one think of cheating. Recently the word ‘piracy,’ is being used by the entertainment industry, in regards to home use. The entertainment industry has pushed a scorched earth policy when it comes to presentations to Congress, the FCC and the courts. But during informal discussions they say, ‘Let’s negotiate.'”

The Supreme Court recently reviewed the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act, which lengthened the terms of copyright protection in several ways, including adding 20 years to existing copyrights and extending corporate copyrights to a total of 95 years. Shapiro commented, “I regret that we did not challenge the legislation passed five years ago. The justices said the extension made no sense. The framers of the Constitution in 1776 gave copyrights [about two decades]. We should have fought the 20-year extension.”

And he reminded his audience, “The entertainment industry must choose between a lifetime copyright or to enable technology to be open. Now it is not just the consumer electronics industry versus the entertainment industry. It is consumers versus the entertainment industry. The first amendment [provides us] the right to receive and transmit, the right … of fair use. Consumers must have fair use. If in the future you pay for everything, the world will be poorer. Will we all have to pay for content that is [based on] education, entertainment and communication? How do you spread knowledge around?”