RealTime IT News

Bill Would Force Webcasters' DRM Hand

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein re-introduced Thursday her controversial legislation to mandate DRM formats for all streaming media services. A similar bill failed in the last session of Congress under pressure from consumer advocates and the electronics industry.

The Platform Equality and Remedies for Rights Holders in Music Act (PERFORM Act) primarily targets satellite radio services that allow users to record broadcasts without paying additional licensing fees. Both XM Radio and Sirius sell devices that allow users to record but not transfer the recordings off the devices. Sirius pays an extra license fee for recorded music and XM does not.

But the legislation also calls for webcasters to use some form of copy protection in their streams to listeners. Under current law, webcasters use a statutory license to transmit major label music using whatever streaming format they prefer, including the popular MP3 format that contains no DRM.

Feinstein's bill would force webcasters who use statutory licenses to give up MP3 streaming in favor of proprietary formats that impose recording restrictions. According to Feinstein, webcasters who want the benefit of a statutory license must protect the music they are streaming.

"New radio services are allowing users to do more than simply listen to music. What was once a passive listening experience has turned into a forum where users can record, manipulate, collect and create personalized music libraries," Feinstein said in a statement. "As the modes of distribution change and the technologies change, so must our laws change."

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) praised Feinstein's proposal.

"Under the current system, satellite radio has been allowed to morph into a digital distribution service -- shorting the creators of music, displacing licensed sales and threatening the integrity of the digital music marketplace in the process," RIAA Chairman and CEO Mitch Bainwol said in a statement."

Gigi Sohn, president of the Internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, told internetnews.com her organization has no problem with "harmonizing" royalty rates, but objects to "technology mandates" and, in the case of satellite radio, rolling back user fair use recording rights.

"The bill is a direct attack on the satellite music industry and on nascent terrestrial digital radio," Sohn said. "It confuses a radio service, in which a consumer can only record what is currently being played, with a download service, in which consumers pick the material to download."

Both Public Knowledge and the Electronic Frontier Foundation led the fight to defeat the PERFORM Act in 2006, and Sohn predicted Feinstein may again find tough sledding since new Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) opposes technology standards.

"Unfortunately, the PERFORM Act stalled in the last Congress. However, I am hopeful that the Judiciary Committee under Senator Leahy's leadership will make time to examine this and other important intellectual property issues," Feinstein said. "This legislation is too important for it to languish for another Congress."