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Gateway ads hit sour chord with music industry

PC World
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By Tom Spring

(IDG) -- It's mouse versus cow as the entertainment and tech industries turn up the volume on their copy protection clash, each trying to sell a different tune to consumers.

The latest release: The Recording Industry Association of America says Gateway's digital music ad campaign is catchy, but far from a hit.

The ad shows Chief Executive Officer Ted Waitt and the company's mascot Holstein cow singing along to a tune available for free download on Gateway's site. It closes with the message: "Gateway supports your right to enjoy digital music legally."

The RIAA, the organization that sued Napster and MP3.com for providing a means to swap copyrighted music online, calls Gateway's digital music advocacy "a gateway to misinformation."

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The RIAA and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), backed by such entertainment giants as Disney and Universal, complain that the tech industry makes money from piracy, because peripherals like CD-RW drives can easily duplicate copyrighted works. Music labels claim sales are down 10 percent because of Internet-assisted piracy.

Instead of misinforming the public, Gateway should be working with the record industry to try to find a solution to digital piracy, says Hilary Rosen, RIAA president and CEO in a written statement. But Gateway doesn't want to do that, because that "wouldn't help [Gateway] sell more CD burners," Rosen adds.

Making Hay

However, Gateway representatives are in fact participating in the Copy Protection Technical Working Group (CPTWG), a cooperative venture of Hollywood and Silicon Valley. This is the organization that developed cryptographic tools to protect DVD content. Its latest mission: finding a way to address the entertainment industry's desire to protect its copyrighted material without unduly shackling digital equipment or its users.

Seeing little progress, Senate Commerce Committee chair Ernest Hollings (Democrat-South Carolina) recently gave the clashing industries a nudge. His Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Act gives the two sides one year to agree on a technology standard for copyright protection -- or the Federal Communications Commission will declare a standard. The proposal, which could mean imposing copying restrictions on digital devices from PCs to MP3 players, has been met with opposition from consumers and much of the tech industry. Several law firms are considering class action suits, alleging some music companies are quietly imposing copy protection unilaterally.

A new Digital Music section on Gateway's site warns of the worst. While carefully noting that Gateway respects copyright laws and opposes illegal copying, the company states that consumers should have the right to make personal copies of CDs purchased legally, for backup or to listen to the music from different locations and in different formats.

Gateway describes the pending legislation as promoting "anti-piracy technology that could prevent all digital copying" and urges customers to voice their concerns to their congressional representatives.

Scare Tactics?

The RIAA's Rosen complains that Gateway relies on "misleading scare tactics" by suggesting that looming laws would "prevent all digital copying." The organization blames CD-RW drives for online piracy.

Gateway, not surprisingly, draws a distinction.

"We support encryption," says Brad Williams, Gateway's director of communications. "But there is no magic fix for music piracy." He says the music industry and Congress are incorrect to assume a technological silver bullet can prevent music piracy.

Gateway's digital music campaign is part of a larger push for its new 500 X Digital Music PC, a high-end home PC system designed specifically for music fans. In addition, Gateway Country stores offer seminars to teach consumers how to download music and movies and burn them on CDs.

Disney, one of the loudest advocates of copy controls, cringes at advertising slogans like Apple's "Rip. Mix. Burn." CEO Michael Eisner has accused PC vendors of counting on the piracy of Hollywood's copyright-protected content to sell their own products.

Tech firms, notably Intel, counter that Disney is daffy, arguing a dearth of legitimate music and video online services results in millions of people being branded as pirates for turning to capable file-swapping services to get content in the formats they want.

"There is no quick fix to digital piracy," Gateway's Williams says. Tech companies acknowledge their fear that shackling CD and DVD players could hurt sales of drives and even PCs. But they maintain the solution requires the music and film industry to change they way they do business.

"They have to embrace digital media technology and the Internet, instead of subverting it with regulation," Williams says.


 
 
 
 


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