Euro Group: Music Consumers' Rights Being Abused

The music industry should stop criminalizing customers and limiting their freedom in the battle against piracy, a European consumers' group said Thursday.

The emergence of copy-protected CDs — installed with anti-piracy software that limits how many times the CD can be copied — "is the most visible example of this," said Jim Murray of BEUC, an association representing consumer lobbies across Europe.

"Private consumers ... are not criminals and to portray them as such is insulting and counter productive," Murray said.

The group launched a digital rights manifesto for music and film lovers, saying they had the right to privacy and the right to benefit from technological innovations without abusive restrictions.

People can usually do what they like with the products they buy — unless they are purchasing digital products. Murray said consumers are "restricted" in the name of anti-piracy.

But the European media industry said the consumers' group was taking a simplistic view.

"The position taken by the BEUC is somewhat black and white and this whole debate is extremely gray," Lucy Cronin of the European Digital Media Association said.

"We do lose revenue on this," she said, though she did not say how much.

The Recording Industry Association of America claims the music industry loses around $4.2 billion worldwide each year.

Cronin said any moves to combat piracy should go hand in hand with more licenses for legitimate companies to sell their music online in order to give consumers more choice.

BEUC wants the European Commission to propose more EU laws on consumers' rights, saying that big corporations' licensing terms goes far beyond what is needed to protect their intellectual property rights.

"True piracy of intellectual property is a big problem generated by criminals," Murray said. "We strongly believe in protecting intellectual property but not by demonizing ordinary consumers."

He said it was time to guarantee consumers certain basic rights in the digital world and to tell them what they could do with their digital hardware and content.

According to a Forrester Research report from August 2004, some 89 percent of Europeans said they never paid to download music or video.