April 17, 2004 | By Donna Wentworth

Did the RIAA Secretly Lobby the FCC for a Digital Radio Tech Mandate?

Just over a year ago, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) issued a policy statement condemning government-mandated technical protection measures for digital content.

"The imposition of technical mandates is not the best way to serve the long-term interests of record companies, technology companies, and consumers," read the statement. "The role of the government, if needed at all, should be limited to forcing compliance with voluntarily developed functional specifications reflecting consensus among affected interests."

You read that right, folks: for a moment, there, the RIAA agreed with EFF.

Unfortunately, that moment appears to have passed. On Friday, our friends at Public Knowledge put in a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to determine whether or not the RIAA has covertly been lobbying the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for the latest government tech mandate: a "broadcast flag" for digital radio.

Explained Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn in the media release, "There has to be a reason why the Commission was so drastically prepared to change course, and it didn't show up in the required public filings." She added that she didn't buy the RIAA's claim that the group "didn't know" it had to disclose its contact with FCC commissioners and staff.

"If the request turns up any previously undocumented communications," noted EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz, "the RIAA will have violated the Ex Parte disclosure laws."

Whether or not the RIAA is found to be at fault, the problem remains of convincing the FCC not to adopt yet another ill-considered government tech mandate. EFF is working with Public Knowledge and others to fight both the original broadcast flag and the push for this new mandate -- which comes in the absence of a demand for action from Congress, a record of argument in the FCC docket, and any attempt by the RIAA to work out an industry solution.

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