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Digital content has exploded in the past ten years. DVD players are the most popular consumer electronics device of all time; CDs and MP3s have completely replaced analog formats; the internet offers unprecedented amounts of content to anyone with access to a computer.
All of this is good news for the consumer. But there is a dark side to the growing availability of digital content. Even as the amount of available digital content is increasing, our rights to use that content are being stripped away. And these changes are occurring with very little input from the citizens who will be most affected.
Hard to believe? Here are a few examples.
How did this happen? The answer is that recent changes to copyright laws have given increased power to the content industries at the expense of ordinary citizens. For most of the past 200 years, Congress and the courts maintained a careful balance between the rights of creators and the rights of citizens. Creators were given the sole right to profit from their works, but in exchange, citizens were given some degree of flexibility to use content that they owned. But over the past few years, that balance has shifted dramatically. The content industry now has unprecedented power in their ability to control the use of digital content, and consumers are left with almost no rights at all.
Beyond the domain of personal media use, the increasing power of copyright laws has the potential to impact more fundamental issues:
We believe that recent changes to copyright law have gone too far by depriving citizens of rights that they had for almost two centuries. Our goal is simply to restore the balance of copyright law so that artists and creators can prosper while citizens have reasonable flexibility to use content in fair and legal ways.
That's why we're proposing a Consumer Technology Bill of Rights. The bill is a simple, positive assertion of the rights that consumers have had until recently. These include:
Does this mean that we support the theft of digital content? Absolutely not. Stealing music or movies is (and always has been) illegal. We do not support or condone theft. But copying and stealing are not necessarily the same thing. In certain situations, it is wrong to copy content; but in many cases, it is both legal and ethical to make unauthorized copies for fair uses. For example, recording a TV show with your VCR is unauthorized but perfectly legal.
DigitalConsumer.org is trying to restore the balance between citizens and copyright holders. For more information, please read the complete Consumer Technology Bill of Rights or our list of answers to frequently asked questions.