RIAA Petitions FCC To Regulate Digital Radio

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is determined to prevent consumers from listening to digital radio broadcasts – that is unless they use devices pre-approved by the industry group.

Opposing the use of digital recording devices, especially "TiVo" type units intended to record digital radio broadcasts, the RIAA has sent a lengthy letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), asking the commission to require digital radio broadcasters to encode their signals in such a way that only "approved [by RIAA] devices" are able to descramble and playback these broadcasts.

"The potential upside of digital radio for fans, artist and labels, broadcasters and others in the music chain is tantalizing," said Mitch Bainwol, Chairman and CEO of the RIAA. "For the potential to be fully reached, we need the help of the FCC to approve some common-sense safeguards. Given the enormous damage wrought by peer-to-peer piracy, a little advance prudence here would go a long way."

In response, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Brennan Center for Justice have filed public comments with the FCC, hoping to derail the RIAA's attempt to regulate future digital radio technologies. Citing the fact that it's now legal under copyright law for consumers to record radio broadcasts, the EFF and the Brennan Center commented that the RIAA is attempting to wrongly convince the FCC to ignore copyright law by denying consumer's long-established home recording rights.

According to the Brennan Center's Free Expression Policy Project founder, Marjorie Heins, "Having failed in their congressional efforts to restrict home taping, the recording industry is now asking the FCC to go beyond copyright law to interfere with the public's right to make recordings of radio broadcasts for home use. This would be a perversion of the FCC's role, and home recording poses no threat to corporate copyright interests that could conceivably justify it."

EFF Senior Staff Attorney Fred von Lohmann agreed, stating "The RIAA is trying to halt the development of next-generation digital technologies, like a Tivo for radio – technologies that are perfectly legal under copyright law." von Lohmann added, "This is about restricting personal home taping off the radio, something that Congress has said is legal and that millions of Americans have been doing for decades."

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has also advised the FCC that regulations on digital radio recording could hamper technological innovation. "This is the latest example of the content community - in this case the Recording Industry Association of America - seeking to limit consumers' recording rights and rollback the landmark 'Betamax' decision, which maintains that manufacturers have the right to sell a product if it is capable of any commercially significant non-infringing uses," said CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro, adding that "Interfering with radio broadcasters' shift to digital broadcasting would choke off advancement and modernization. Not only is that un-American, it's totally without merit."

Another round of public comments to the FCC regarding this issue are due to be submitted by July 16th.