Fair Use

The Battle for Your Digital Media Devices

Major entertainment companies are locking up the audio and video content you own and taking away your rights.

You should be able to make personal use of your media however, whenever, and wherever you want. Great gizmos make that possible, allowing you to back-up music and movies, record your favorite shows, put your entire collection on a portable player, and access it remotely over the Internet. How much more valuable is your CD collection to you now that you have a portable MP3 player? How much more valuable is your cable subscription now that you have a TiVo?

But Hollywood and the recording industry have never welcomed innovative technologies that help you get more from your media. Instead, they are trying to control your digital media devices, hoping to take away your fair use rights and sell them back to you. By dictating the design of technologies, they aim to veto exciting new uses that may upset their existing business models. Remember, if Disney could have forced Sony to redesign the VCR in 1976, it would have (it sued that year to block the Betamax, after all). Unfortunately, government regulation, legal precedents, and technological restrictions may turn this ugly fantasy into your reality.

EFF is fighting back to defend your digital media rights. Learn more about the battle below, and support EFF's efforts by donating or becoming a member.

Hollywood wants to lock up your TV

Eye-popping high-definition content is within your reach, but there's a catch: Hollywood is forcing you to accept downgraded features and throw out compatible devices. Take the "broadcast flag" mandate, which would have required by law that all HDTVs come ready to obey Hollywood's commands. Recording over-the-air broadcasts, burning them to DVD, sending them to another device—all that and more would be hampered. "Flag compliant" technologies may not work with existing devices, including your HD display, so get ready to rip out your home network and toss your TiVo and home theater receivers. Fortunately, EFF helped beat the FCC's broadcast flag mandate in court and has managed to keep in check Congressional proposals that would put it back into effect.

Restrictions are also creeping into next-generation Blu-ray and HD-DVD players, cable and satellite TV, and many other devices. They surely won't stop piracy, but they will frustrate legitimate uses, and EFF is fighting against them every step of the way.

The recording industry wants to restrict your stereo

At the behest of the recording industry, most online music stores limit CD burning, copying music to other computers, and which devices can play the music, among other legitimate uses. Want to put your restricted Windows Media Audio songs onto your iPod? No can do. In fact, whenever the greatest new gadgets don't support your music's DRM format, you'll be forced to rebuy your entire collection. Unfortunately, the stores obscure these restrictions, so EFF created a guide that details specifically how your rights are endangered.

More recently, the RIAA has gone to the FCC and Congress asking that digital radios (e.g., Sirius, XM, and HD Radio) be redesigned to interfere with home taping, something American music fans have been doing for more than 25 years and is clearly legal under existing copyright laws. EFF and others have succeeded thus far in staving off government regulation of digital radios.

Learn more

Entertainment companies want to control your computer

Your TiVo and iPod are simply specially-designed computer hardware and software. As media devices and PCs converge, threats to one endanger the other.

With its entertainment industry accomplices, Microsoft is turning your general-purpose computer into a toaster—a content-vending appliance that obeys copyright holders, not you. The forthcoming Microsoft Vista operating system and Media Centers will give copyright holders unprecedented control over the video devices that connect to your computer. Say you want to watch a DVD or movie downloaded from an online store on your computer—be prepared to buy a new monitor and use software that follows Hollywood's wishes.

EFF has been tracking these developments since well before they were on most people's radar.

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Entertainment companies want to "plug the analog hole"

If you can see or hear it, you can copy it, right? Not if the entertainment companies get to restrict anything that can convert "analog" sound or video to digital bits, including camcorders, sound cards, VCRs, and beyond. Congressional proposals to "plug the analog hole" would restrict both new and ordinary uses. You won't be able to use tools like the Slingbox to send recorded TV shows to yourself over the Internet. And if you want to excerpt a DVD for a school report, too bad. So far, EFF's helped keep these misguided bills in check.