Political activism came to the opening day of Comdex as the Home Recording Rights Coalition (HRRC) asked attendees to sign a huge petition to combat planned US intellectual property rights legislation which it claims will damage the IT industry.
The US Government plans to introduce new laws to put in to practice two World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo) treaties, which were signed earlier this year. According to Wipo and the Clinton administration, the new laws will protect the interests of copyright holders.
But the HRRC insists that the new laws would be 'anti-technology' and would impose intolerable design restrictions on the makers of new computers and other digital electronic products by effectively outlawing the inclusion of recording functions in them.
The coalition hopes to leave Comdex with as many as a quarter of a million signatures on two giant petitions, currently fixed to the HRRC stand on the exhibition floor. According to a coalition spokesman, the petitions are deliberately so large in the hope that when they are presented to Congress in January, politicians will be unable to overlook them.
The proposed legisalation would, claims the HRRC, overthrow a landmark 1984 ruling by the Supreme Court, which considered the question of whether a new recording device - in this instance the betamax video recorder - could be kept off the market because it afforded pirates the potential to breach copyright.
If implemented in its current form, the suggested new laws would allow the courts to ban new computers if they failed to react to anti-copy signals applied to programs. This would, according to the HRRC, mean that courts would determine the selection of components in a PC and even then possibly only after years of litigation.
An HRRC spokesman said: "Manufacturers, retailers and ultimately consumers would remain unsure whether any new hardware or software product would be available or supported in the marketplace."
The HRRC is backing alternative legislation from Republican senator John Ashcroft which it says implements the Wipo treaty requirements but in such a way that targets illegal conduct which would harm intellectual property creators and owners rather than advances in technology.
Gary Shapiro, chairman of the HRRC and President of Consumer Electronics Manufacturers' Association, commented: "We hope that the Administration will accept and support Senator Ashcroft's approach, which is faithful to the Treaty provisions."
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