Digital Home Taping Bill Stalls, Put on Rewind

Times Staff Writer

The recording industry, unable as yet to persuade Congress to ban digital home taping equipment, was equally unsuccessful in the state Legislature Tuesday as an Assembly committee shelved a bill to restrict for one year the manufacture of the new high fidelity devices.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles), would have required manufacturers of digital audio tape recorders to place within their machines a device called a "copy-code scanner" that would prevent the reproduction of copyrighted recordings. Similar legislation, introduced by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), is pending before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Wait Until Next Year

Rosenthal withdrew his bill before a formal vote of the Assembly Economic Development and New Technologies Committee after a majority of committee members indicated they would not support it. The Westside senator said he would introduce a modified version of the bill in the 1988 session.

Digital audio tape, known as DAT to hi-fi enthusiasts, is considered the cassette equivalent of the compact disc, or CD. Unlike CDs, which cannot be recorded with home equipment, DATs can be made with the same ease of standard analog cassettes. The digital recorders are not yet available to consumers.

The recording industry contends that the high quality of the digital tapes will encourage consumers to tape copies of their friends' CDs, rather than buy their own.

Electronics manufacturers, fearful that consumers would have little interest in tape recorders that could not record commercially available music, have opposed the copy-code legislation.

At Tuesday's Assembly panel hearing, advocates for both sides argued that they represent unprotected individuals under assault by large corporate interests--record companies saying they speak for artists and electronics firms taking the mantle of the consumer.

The dispute pits the record companies, many of which are headquartered in Hollywood, against an electronics industry with a strong presence in Los Angeles County. Many American offices and plants belonging to Japanese manufacturers are located in such cities as Carson and Gardena.

Drain on Royalties

As they have in previous battles over digital and video tape recorders, representatives of the entertainment and electronics industries brought impassioned witnesses and impressive arrays of equipment to demonstrate their cases.

"The home taping problem has been sapping the royalty stream" that supports composers and lyricists, songwriter Donald Kahn told the committee.

Kahn, whose father, Gus Kahn, wrote "Ain't We Got Fun" and other hit tunes of the 1920s and '30s, said that home taping had made the often unprofitable lot of songwriters even less attractive, and that the DAT technology would further cut into royalties.

"When we have successful songs, we should be compensated for them," Kahn said.

Question of Legality

Electronics industry representatives, however, argued that home taping itself is not illegal, and that the DAT technology might increase profits for record companies by providing a new medium for playing music.

"The people who have done the most home taping also buy the most prerecorded music," said Gary J. Shapiro, a vice president of the Electronic Industries Assn.

The hearing had its lively moments, as technicians from both sides demonstrated expensive layouts of hi-fi equipment. A CBS Records engineer played copy-coded versions of country singer George Strait's "Dance Time in Texas" to show lawmakers that the anti-recording device would not impair fidelity. Later, an electronics industry consultant played DAT and analog metal tape cassettes of Duke Ellington's "Take the A Train," attempting to demonstrate that the new technology was not substantially different from that presently available.

While the Rosenthal bill would not have affected existing recording devices, the music industry has long argued that amateur home recordings are illegal.

"We are hoping that this kind of legislation puts a halt on the problem (of home taping) so it can be addressed in a long-term solution," said Joel M. Schoenfeld, an attorney with the Recording Industry Assn. of America.

When Assemblyman Robert C. Frazee (R-Carlsbad) described his practice of making home recordings of records he buys to play in his car stereo, Schoenfeld exclaimed, "I'm sorry, but that is wrong. Someone has put the time and effort into creating that property, and he is not being compensated for it."

Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin (D-Oakland) disputed Schoenfeld's claim that most home taping was done to produce duplicates of commercially-sold albums. "When I do home taping, it isn't, frankly, because I want to make multiple copies. It's because I can't stand maybe 80% of an album," she said.

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