EFF criticize US labels’ approach to digital radio: EFF article “Don’t Touch That Dial, RIAA!”

October 2005

Radio, Record Labels, Internet

The EFF have (somewhat tongue in cheek) suggested that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has seen the future of radio – and would prefer to live in the past. Digital broadcast radio is a standard for transmitting digital stations on existing analog radio bands. Known somewhat misleadingly as “HD radio” (the audio quality is about the same as analog FM), its adoption is giving tech companies a chance to experiment and innovate in the world of consumer radio. TiVo-like functionality could be built into your digital receiver, letting you automatically build playlists and skip across channels based on your personal tastes. Computer-operated radio cards could be enhanced with new features using the standard’s metadata. Tomorrow’s tinkerers could give us new ways to enjoy radio, just as the engineers who brought us VCRs helped transform the way we watch TV. As Mitch Bainwol, chairman of RIAA says, radio has a chance to become active, not passive, entertainment. But when he and the RIAA say that, they don’t say it like it’s a good thing.

Last week, with a coalition of copyright holders, the RIAA sent messages to members of Congress requesting that the FCC be given new powers to hobble digital radios so they perform worse than the analogue radios of yesteryear. According to the RIAA, you should be able to record off the radio, but only subject to their “usage rules”: (1) recordings must be for no less than 30 minutes; (2) recordings cannot be divided into individual songs, nor will you be allowed to jump between songs; (3) recordings must be encrypted and locked to the individual recording device (no transfers to your iPod!); (4) recordings can only be triggered by a human pressing a “record” button or by pre-programmed date-and-time (like your old VCR!), which means no smart metadata driven features like TiVo’s “Wishlist.” In other words, the RIAA wants to micromanage how you record off the radio! The most amazing thing about this? There is nothing illegal about recording from digital radio. Congress specifically gave radio fans the right to record off the radio (including digital radio) in the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act (AHRA). That law also gave innovators the right to build digital radio recorders (including smart digital radio recorders) without fear of copyright liability. There is nothing in that law that says the recorders have to be made artificially stupid by FCC regulation.

More info on the latest RIAA lobbying in Congress: http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/archives/003967.php

EFF’s comments to the FCC on the RIAA proposals (pdf file): http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/archives/EFF-BC%20DAB%20comments.pdf

An informative exchange between the Presidents of the RIAA and the Consumer Electronics Association:http://cryptome.sabotage.org/RIAA-CEA.htm

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