Euro Courts Showing Support For Copy-Protection Measures

In the controversial issue of copy protection, a series of court cases in Europe have been decided in favor of the music industry. A few weeks after a French court dismissed legal action against label

BRUSSELS -- In the controversial issue of copy protection, a series of court cases in Europe have been decided in favor of the music industry.

A few weeks after a French court dismissed legal action against labels that had released copy-protected CDs, a Brussels court dismissed a suit that the Belgian consumers' watchdog Test-Achats/Test Aankoop brought against four major record companies for installing copy-control devices on CDs.

Test-Achats says it plans to appeal the ruling, which has been hailed by the industry.

"Courts have recognized the importance for the industry of using technological measures to protect audiovisual works and recordings," a spokeswoman for the Brussels-based European regional office of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry says.

"These technological protection measures are essential to protect the recording industry against the piracy that is decimating the sector. They are also the basis for providing consumers with new and innovative services," she says.

In the United States, the Recording Industry Assn. of America (RIAA) closely watches legal developments in this field. The RIAA sees the Belgian court case as a benchmark.

"In the U.S., labels have not yet aggressively launched copy-protected CDs, so they are following all these court cases around the world," an RIAA executive says. "There's a lot of information shared on these issues" between Europe and the United States.

In January, Test-Achats sued EMI, Universal Music Group, Sony Music and BMG because of their efforts to prevent consumers from making private copies of CDs.

Test-Achats claimed that private copying was authorized under a 1994 Belgian law that said rights-owners cannot ban copies of sound or audiovisual works made within a family context.

But a Brussels court threw out the case at the end of May, saying consumers do not have a right to make private copies and that CDs without copy controls are exceptions.

Test-Achats spokesman Jean-Philippe Ducart says the ruling did not offer any solid arguments beyond that.

"The judge ignored, for example, that blank CDs carry a tax that goes to support artists. This is something that implicitly recognizes the right to copy," he says.
The IFPI believes Test-Achats misinterpreted Belgian law.

"Courts have steered clear from interfering with the use of copy-control technologies and have denied the existence of a 'right to private copying' either under national law or on the basis of the most recent EU Copyright Directive," a spokeswoman says.

"This is just the first round," Ducart says. "We will appeal within the next few weeks."

The judgment echoes recent court cases and government proclamations in other countries. In the Netherlands, the Minister of Justice recently told the Parliament that copy-control protections on audio CDs do not raise problems for consumers, given that such discs are designed primarily to be played on CD players.

Earlier this year, a French court threw out claims by consumers' body UFC-Que Choisir against EMI Recorded Music France. But the court ruled that the playback limitations of EMI's copy protection were "hidden" and ordered the company to reimburse the consumer on whose behalf the case was brought.

The IFPI says copy-controlled discs are a response to the sharp increase in piracy, multiple copying and illegal Internet distribution of recorded music. The technology aims to protect artists, songwriters, record companies, retailers and everyone else involved in making and distributing music on CD, the IFPI says.

Additional reporting by Emmanuel Legrand in London.

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