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Congress Settles Long-standing Dispute over Digital Recording

Congress Settles Long-standing Dispute Over Digital Recording

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

Congress this week cleared the way for millions of American music lovers to enjoy the benefits of digital home recording equipment, a breakthrough technology that has been delayed for more than five years because of a bitter copyright dispute within the entertainment industry.

The legislation now before the president would facilitate the mass marketing of the equipment, which songwriters and record companies previously had maintained could drive them out of business by making it much easier to make high-quality copies of records and tapes in the home.

The equipment has not been widely sold up to now in part because manufacturers fear a tidal wave of lawsuits from the recording industry.

In return for dropping its opposition, the music industry will get money in the form of a 3 percent "royalty" on blank digital tapes and discs and a 2 percent royalty on digital recorders. The royalties could mean higher retail prices on the items.

The money will be distributed to record companies, songwriters and other members of the music industry as compensation for the wholesale copying of recorded music that they believe will take place once the superior digital equipment is widely available.

No royalties would be collected on conventional analog recorders or tape cassettes.

Mark Silbergeld, director of the Washington office of Consumers Union, criticized the royalty as an unfair "tax." But he said that it "appears to be the only way out of restrictions that are allowing very few of the machines onto the market." He said it remained to be seen whether consumers would want the machines, however.

In addition, the bill provides for digital recording machines to include technology that will cut down on copying: users will be able to copy the original of a prerecorded piece of music. However, the machines will shut down if users attempt to make a copy of a copy.

The bill clears the way for mass marketing of two new sound systems: The Digital Compact Cassette, a digital tape recorder that Tandy Corp. has put on sale for $699 in the United States in recent weeks, and the Minidisk, developed by Sony Corp. The Minidisk uses a 2.5-inch compact disc that can be erased and re-recorded.