Congressional Subcommittee Declares War on VCRs and PCs

Recently, The Home Recording Rights Coalition (HRRC) sounded an alert to consumers and all other users of home VCRs and personal computers. In passing legislation to implement copyright treaties, a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee rejected an amendment that would have preserved consumers' rights to buy and use digital VCRs and PCs capable of making home recordings.

The bill, H.R. 2281, is a Clinton Administration measure to implement treaties negotiated at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It includes restrictions on new devices that might be used for home recording. An amendment offered by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) would have clarified that the restrictions on the sale and use of such devices do not apply to consumer VCRs and PCs, but this amendment was rejected.

According to HRRC Chairman Gary Shapiro, "In rejecting the Boucher amendment, the backers of H.R. 2281 made crystal clear what HRRC has been warning from the moment this bill was introduced: It is intended to deny consumers new generations of VCRs and PCs that are capable of home recording. HRRC is calling on all consumers, retailers, and others interested in private, noncommercial home recording to contact members of the full House Judiciary Committee and urge them to reject this appalling legislation."

Along with Rep. Tom Campbell (R-CA), Rep. Boucher is the author of an alternative measure to implement the WIPO treaties, H.R. 3048. This bill, which has broad, bipartisan support, would address actual conduct that infringes copyright without imposing any prior restraints on lawful, general-purpose consumer devices. By contrast, Shapiro points out, the bill passed in subcommittee today would impose restraints on the design, sale, and marketing of devices capable of "circumventing" any "technological protection measure" added to a signal to prevent consumer home recording---even the sort of "fair use" that was protected by the Supreme Court in the 1984 "Betamax" case.

Shapiro notes that HRRC is not the only organization fighting technical restraints on VCRs and PCs. Groups of educators, librarians, archivists, computer manufacturers, and those interested in distance learning also strongly oppose restraints on devices that can be used for home recording. Shapiro is calling for an all-out campaign by consumers to ask the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), and all members of that committee, to reject H.R. 2281 or to accept the Boucher amendment. He also calls on consumers to ask their own members of Congress to become cosponsors of the bipartisan Boucher-Campbell alternative, H.R. 3048.

Founded in 1981, the Home Recording Rights Coalition is a group of consumers, retailers, electronics servicers, and others interested in preserving the rights of consumers to obtain and use new consumer electronics devices free of unreasonable government restraints or private taxes. Those interested in further information should contact the HRRC and the Digital Future Coalition, of which the HRRC is a member.