The Honorable Al Swift, Pirate?

Tuesday, May 18, 2004 | 10:28 AM


EFF points to testimony by former Congressman Al Swift, who is a long standing home recording hobbyist:

"I think I was in my first year of high school when I bought - with money I earned after school working in a hardware store - my first tape machine. It was a reel-to-reel machine. It was supposed to be a portable, but it weighed a ton. And all I had to record onto it were 78 rpm records. The 45 didn't show up until I was in college. I've been a home recordist for about 54 years. In that time, I have given friends many tapes, cassettes and now CDs containing "programs" I have created from my own collection of LPs and CDs. In that time, I have never made a straight duplicate of a record for anyone. If they ask me to, I tell them politely how easy is it to buy it on the Internet. In that time I have never charged a person a penny - even for the cost of the raw cassette or CD blank. It is just my hobby."

Where the Congressman nails this issue is in observing that "some people have a remarkable ability to carry a good idea to a bad extreme. Look at the history of the recording industries. They have always distrusted new technology. If Hollywood had been given its way the video tapes and DVDs, from which they now make a great percentage of their profits, would have been smothered in their bassinettes. This Committee reported out a perfectly absurd bill that - the industry claimed - was essential to prevent the Digital Audio Tape (DAT) machines from destroying the recording industry. Now you can hardly find a DAT machine - except for commercial purposes."

What about industry lobbying?

"in an effort to prevent pirates from duplicating their products - have persuaded Congress to adopt statutes that prevent home recordists like me - and millions who are not quite so fixated on the process as I am - from making duplicates without severe restrictions. If you want to make a copy for your car and one for your wife's and one for the boat and another for the cabin - that is hard to do because of technical restrictions the industry wanted and Congress gave to them."

What about consumer rights when purchasing music or video?

"When I buy a CD or a DVD, that content should be wholly mine to do with as I please as long as I am in no way selling its contents or profiting from it. As for equipment: I recently bought a dual CD burner that was touted as making a copy in a quarter of real time - in 15 minutes instead of one hour. I installed it and tried to make a quick copy of one of the CDs I had produced. It wouldn't do it. Calling the company to ask what I was doing wrong, I was told that I was doing nothing wrong. Under the law, they could not let me fast-duplicate anything except an original recording. Someone had just put their hand in my pocket and taken some money from me -- all in the name of protecting themselves from theft."

Is that a fair resolution of the problem?

"What the recording industries apparently want is so broad that it goes way beyond their legitimate interests and intrudes well into the legitimate interests of millions of consumers. In America we do not normally right a wrong for one group by transferring the wrong to another group. But that is what has happened on this issue.

Furthermore, the present statute does not grant the American consumer what anyone brought up on a criminal charge is entitled to: the presumption of innocence. Present law is predicated on the assumption that consumers will rip-off copyright holders. The vast majority are innocent of that assumption, but all are treated as guilty."

Why is it that Congressman all seem to gain wisdom once they leave the halls of D.C. ?

"Modern technology clearly poses real problems for protecting intellectual property in the traditional ways. It is unclear how we can make the transition to a different form of protection that solves the problems technology has created. But taking hammers to the weaving machines did not save the looms at the beginning of the industrial age. And statutes that hammer the consumer now, will, in the end, not resolve this matter. In fact, I would be willing to bet that - at this very moment - someone is developing technological innovation that will make the legal strictures now in place useless to the proponents as well as irritating to the consumers . . . This is a clear opportunity to draw a balance between protecting the legitimate copyright interests of the industries involved and the legitimate rights of the average American consumer - who, let us remember, is not in the wholesale pirating business. Others do that. The American consumer is no threat to these industries. Instead, they are the industries' source of wealth. I own 3,000 CDs at an average price of say - conservatively - $13 each. You do the math. You will find not only that my hobby spending is out of control. You will also find that I am - like other American consumers - a profit center for these businesses. It is about time they treated us with a little respect."

Witness Testimony
The Honorable Allan Swift, Colling Murphy
1331 ‘F’ Street, N.W. Suite 800
Washington, DC, 20004
H.R. 107, The Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act of 2003
Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection
May 12, 2004, 10:00 AM

Via EFF Blog,
Fred von Lohmann
The Hon. Al Swift, Home Recordist
May 17, 2004, 01:55 PM

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