An advertisement (PDF) published in a Capitol Hill newspaper by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) calls for legislators to oppose restrictions on satellite radio. Featuring amusing prophecies of doom uttered by content industry figures of the past, the advertisement illuminates the deficiencies of the vacuous arguments used by the contemporary content industry in its battle against fair use rights:
"I forsee a marked deterioration in American music…and a host of other injuries to music in its artistic manifestations, by virtue—or rather by vice—of the multiplication of the various music-reproducing machines…" -John Philip Sousa on the Player Piano (1906)
“The public will not buy songs that it can hear almost at will by a brief manipulation of the radio dials.” -Record Label Executive on FM Radio (1925)
“But now we are faced with a new and very troubling assault on our fiscal security, on our very economic life and we are facing it from a thing called the videocassette recorder.” -MPAA on the VCR (1982)
“When the manufacturers hand the public a license to record at home…not only will the songwriter tie a noose around his neck, not only will there be no more records to tape [but] the innocent public will be made an accessory to the destruction of four industries.” -ASCAP on the Cassette Tape (1982)
In the advertisement, the CEA advocates a free market solution rather than regulation, and implies that satellite radio is simply the latest target of the myopic content industry, fearful of developments that could necessitate change and adaptation or lead to a temporary decrease in profit. The CEA’s concerns are well placed.
In 2004, the RIAA said that it did not intend to fight against the ability to copy music from digital radio, but reversed its position in 2005 by sponsoring the HD Radio Content Protection Act, which would have imposed detrimental restrictions on digital and satellite radio and further eroded fair use rights. The conflict between satellite radio companies and the music industry escalated last month when Universal Music Group, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and EMI Group filed a lawsuit together against XM Radio for enabling consumers to record up to 50 hours of music on a portable satellite radio receiver.
This is not the first time that the CEA has used advertising to convey a message to legislators. In April, a CEA advertisement published in two Capitol Hill publications took aim at the RIAA’s litigious assault on swashbuckling music misappropriators. The April advertisement, which humorously juxtaposes people enjoying television and a stereotypical sea pirate, was widely appreciated within the blogosphere.
The content industry wields significant political power, and has made significant inroads in its war against Fair Use despite the efforts of numerous consumer rights advocacy groups. In modern America, a lot of legislation is concocted for the sake of expanding the power of the government, increasing the size of campaign funds, or appeasing powerful constituents in order to rack up votes and favors. Instead of appealing to the self-interest of politicians, the CEA is attempting to utilize logic, an approach that might not be effective in the political arena where cynicism is an abundant commodity. In a country where some lawmakers literally sell political favors and serve the special interest groups that are willing to fork over the most cash, can a clever advertisement really achieve anything of substance?
If the CEA wants to protect entertainment electronics from the avarice of the content industry, the cause might be better served by expressing these concerns to the general public in addition to our duly elected representatives. If the CEA can help convince American citizens to vote for candidates that support Fair Use, our politicians might begin to see the wisdom in defending our rights rather than the content industry’s anachronistic business model.