After four years of controversy over the adverse impact the technology might have on music sales, the Senate communications subcommittee today is scheduled to open hearings on a measure that is expected to pave the way for the introduction of digital audiotape recorders.
About a dozen record company officials, music publishers, manufacturers and songwriters are scheduled to testify on a bill that requires all DAT recorders sold in the U.S. to contain a special copyright protection circuit that would prevent consumers from making copies of their digital tape recordings.
However, the coalition of record companies and equipment makers that had helped hammer out the compromise DAT measure introduced by Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) is in danger of falling apart under pressure from disgruntled music publishers and songwriters. Rather than a copyright protection circuit, composers and publishers want a royalty on each blank digital audiotape sold to compensate them for potential lost sales due to home taping.
“What we hope is that Congress will not act on this legislation,” said Edward P. Murphy, president of the National Music Publishers Assn. “There is no consensus on DAT. There is only a great deal of confusion.”
“They are just being hard-headed and misinformed,” said Thomas P. Friel, chairman of the Home Recording Rights Coalition and an executive at the Electronics Industries Assn., a trade group that represents equipment manufacturers. “We have a grand compromise here; it’s a win-win situation.”
Sony, Technics, JVC and Denon announced last week that they plan to start shipping DAT machines with copyright protection circuitry as early as the end of this month. But some experts say that years of delay and political controversy over DAT may have dampened consumer interest in the machines.
“My guess is that DAT will cause more than a ripple, but it won’t be the revolution” for the music industry that compact discs have been, said Lionel S. Sobel, editor of the Entertainment Law Reporter in Santa Monica.
Once hailed as a device that would usher in a new era in audio technology because of its superior sound recording capabilities, digital audiotape machines have been unable to generate critical record industry support.
“The potential is there . . . but we’ve waited an awful long time for DAT and you just wonder if the buzz is not off,” said Bob Buziak, president of RCA Records.
Sony Classical is one of the few to offer prerecorded digital audiotape selections. By contrast, Bertelsmann Music Group--parent company of the RCA and Arista labels--says it doesn’t believe there is a “viable mass market for DAT.” Spokesman for Capitol and Elektra are similarly pessimistic.
What’s more, DAT may soon face competition from newer digital technologies such as recordable compact discs and a new digital tape machine being developed by N.V. Philips that offers near-CD quality sound from standard audio cassettes.