May 17, 2004 | By Fred von Lohmann

The Hon. Al Swift, Home Recordist

The most remarkable testimony at last week's DMCRA hearings was that of former Congressman Allan Swift.

Swift was testifying as a private citizen, as a "home recordist." Basically, he's been making "mix tapes" for 54 years:

In that time, I have given friends many tapes, cassettes and now CDs containing "programs" I have created from my own collection of LPs and CDs. In that time, I have never made a straight duplicate of a record for anyone. If they ask me to, I tell them politely how easy is it to buy it on the Internet. In that time I have never charged a person a penny - even for the cost of the raw cassette or CD blank. It is just my hobby.

As a copyright lawyer, I know that copyright has a complicated relationship with "home taping." But Swift's testimony tells us how the law ought to be. No member of the committee dared to call him a pirate (with the notable exception of Rep. Mary Bono, who appears not to have learned much since announcing that we should enact a copyright term of "forever less one day").

Perhaps it's time we all focus more on the fans, the people who actually make the entertainment industry possible. For them, we need a copyright law that lives up to Swift's simple statement of common sense:

When I buy a CD or a DVD, that content should be wholly mine to do with as I please as long as I am in no way selling its contents or profiting from it. ... Present law is predicated on the assumption that consumers will rip-off copyright holders. The vast majority are innocent of that assumption, but all are treated as guilty.


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