Irish Times article on technology and consumers’ rights

Many thanks to Davin O’Dwyer who has an article in today’s Irish Times setting out our concerns about issues such as fair use, private copying rights, and more:

Whether it’s listening to music on iPods, talking on our mobile phones or surfing the web, most of us have embraced the digital lifestyle. Technology, however, is changing faster than the legislation covering our use of it. So while new technology promises a revolution in the way we consume and interact with different media, it is also giving content providers new ways of controlling our use of the music, movies and information we purchase.

MUSIC The iPod has revolutionised the way we listen to music, but it has also opened a legal minefield. “As it stands in Irish law, it seems to be illegal for you to make a private copy of a CD that you’ve bought, so it’s illegal to copy a CD on to your iPod,” says TJ McIntyre of Digital Rights Ireland. “Needless to say, the music industry would like to be in a position where they sold you the music once on vinyl, once on cassette, once on CD and they’d now like to make you pay for the privilege of listening to it on your iPod.”

In May, the British Phonographic Institute (BPI) recommended that the law be changed to reflect a new reality in which people routinely convert their purchased CDs into MP3s. However, Sean Murtagh of Irma, the Irish equivalent of the BPI, says it has no plans to make a similar recommendation here. …

MOVIES With the advent of video iPods and Sony’s Playstation Portable (PSP) it seems that our DVD collections will eventually join our CD collections in our pockets. However, unlike CDs, DVDs are encrypted to protect the film studios’ copyrights. That is a matter of debate among certain copyright activists – if our CDs are unencrypted, why are our DVDs encrypted? Furthermore, it is illegal to create technology that circumvents copyright-protecting technology. So while copying CDs and putting them on portable players is legal in many countries – though not here – it is impossible to do the same with DVDs.

Movies will have to be purchased in a new format for portable players, even though the technology exists for them to be copied as CDs are. “The beauty of it is that [ the film studios] don’t have to persuade the market,” says McIntyre. “If they can come up with the technology and legislation that prevent fair use, they can ignore the wishes of the consumer.”

TELEVISION In the good old days, you watched something on channel A, you recorded whatever it was you wanted to watch on channel B, and then watched the tape. What’s more, you were legally entitled to do so. But that legal entitlement to fair use is under threat. As the technology moves beyond the VCR to “timeshifting” personal video recorders (PVRs) such as Tivo or Sky+, we should be able to digitally record programmes to a hard drive, skip the ads and move those programmes on to our iPods or PSPs.

However, a “broadcast flag” is being introduced by US networks. Certain programmes would be digitally flagged as, for instance, unrecordable, or watchable only once, or not entitled to be moved to a portable player. “Broadcasters would like to stop via technology what they couldn’t stop by legislation,” says McIntyre. “First they create the technology that stops people doing something [ the broadcast flag], and then they make it illegal for them to circumvent .”

What can we do about these issues? The Consumers’ Group BEUC is running a campaign at a European level, where you can sign a petition to urge MEPs to protect consumers’ rights. We’ll soon be launching an Irish campaign on these issues – watch this space for more.