Groups: Let Digital Freedom ring

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WASHINGTON -- Consumer electronics makers and public-interest groups launched a campaign Wednesday designed to turn back what they see as a rising tide of legislative and legal victories by the copyright industries.

According to the campaign's leaders, the "Digital Freedom" campaign is designed to engender a grass-roots movement similar to the one that coalesced this year around the "network neutrality" issue so people can push back gains made by the motion picture studios and music labels.

"New technologies are under fierce attack from the big recording labels and studios, and those attacks go right to the heart of our basic right to use digital technology without unreasonable government restrictions or the threat of costly lawsuits," Consumer Electronics Assn. president and CEO Gary Shapiro said. "We believe that we have to protect the rights of consumers, artists, innovators, producers and creators to use digital technology when, where and how they choose."

Among the organizations who have joined the new campaign are CEA, Public Knowledge, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Media Access Project, Computer and Communications Industry Assn., Be the Media, New America Foundation, National Video Resources and FreeNetworks.org.

"For the past few years, content companies have launched a sustained assault on the freedom of consumers to legally enjoy, create and distribute music and video and on the freedom of manufacturers to innovate in response to consumer demands," Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn said.

To that end, the organizations launched a Web site and have made limited advertising buys, but they declined comment on how much they are willing to spend in the effort.

Copyright industry officials accused the groups of crying wolf.

"The Consumer Electronics Assn. and other groups are unfortunately once again sounding a false alarm," MPAA chairman and CEO Dan Glickman said. "Maintaining and enforcing strong intellectual property rights will protect American jobs, promote American economic growth and innovation and benefit all consumers. The surest way to kill American jobs, creativity and innovation is to promote piracy by seriously weakening important copyright safeguards. Indeed, the protection of property rights is the most important cornerstone of the free market."

The record labels and other music organizations from the Songwriters Guild of America to the Recording Artists Coalition and the RIAA cautioned the groups against overheated rhetoric.

"We want to make clear from the outset that demagoguery does not advance the conversation or inform the public, nor does a cavalier dismissal of the rights of people who create music and bring it to the public," the 16 groups wrote in an open letter to CEA.

The music industry unit accused the group of setting back the nascent efforts of some in the copyright industry to reach an armistice in the war between the entertainment industry and electronics makers.

"We offered a truce and a dialogue a month ago, and your response, unfortunately, has been to ratchet up the rhetoric," they wrote. "We hope you will reconsider."
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