Copyright warning not fair, CCIA says

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WASHINGTON -- A computer industry trade group has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission claiming that the familiar copyright warning shown before movies and during sports broadcasts misleads consumers by misrepresenting their rights under the nation's copyright laws.

In the complaint filed Wednesday, the Computer & Communications Industry Assn. -- a group that includes Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. -- alleges a nationwide pattern of unfair and deceptive trade practices by misrepresenting consumer rights under copyright law, often threatening criminal and civil penalties against consumers who choose to exercise their rights. These false representations violate the letter and spirit of the FTC Act's prohibition against unfair or deceptive practices in commerce, the group says.

"Such tactics represent an assault on free expression and force consumers to continually forgo lawful activities to which they are entitled under federal law and the Constitution," CCIA president and CEO Ed Black.

Unresolved copyright issues are more important than ever to digital media companies because they could hinder the growth of online video-sharing Web sites like YouTube.

The CCIA complaint was filed against Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBC Universal, DreamWorks, Harcourt Inc. and Penguin Group. It asks the FTC to order companies to stop using current copyright language and launch a marketing campaign to inform consumers of their rights under fair use laws.

"The bottom line is that the copyright holder is not the final arbiter of how his work can be used," said the group's spokesman, Will Rodger. "Copyrights are granted by the federal government, and it's 'we the people' who decide where to draw that line between what's legal and what is not."

NBC Universal called the complaint "frivolous" and accused the association of a publicity stunt.

"There is nothing unlawful, untruthful or inaccurate about the warning labels on our movies, which adhere to long-accepted legal standards and are nearly identical to the warnings used by some of CCIA's own members," the company said. "Content companies like NBC Universal are working overtime to develop new digital distribution models to reach our audience. At a period of such incredible technological development, CCIA could be a serious and constructive participant to assist those efforts and to reduce the tidal wave of wholesale, illegal distribution of copyrighted content. Instead, it apparently prefers to irresponsibly waste taxpayer dollars by filing a frivolous complaint for the sake of little more than publicity."

Calls to the MPAA were directed to the Copyright Alliance, an organization whose membership included the studios, sports leagues and other rights holders.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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