Gateway Ads Attack Hollings Bill

In a slate of new television, radio and online ads, computer manufacturer Gateway is voicing its opposition to a bill that aims to curtail PC users’ copying of music CDs.

The San Diego-based PC maker, which is busily promoting a computer setup designed for music and CD-burning enthusiasts in other ads, said its new advocacy campaign seeks to raise consumer awareness for the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act proposed by Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings (D-S.C.)

The bill — strongly supported by the music and movie industry but criticized by hardware industry associations and consumer advocates like the Electronic Frontier Foundation — requires that all new hardware and software products include copy protection that limits the number of times a consumer may play digital music and video.

The legislation likely would halt practices like converting a CD to the MP3 format for use in a user’s portable player, and burning a backup copy of a purchased CD — practices today considered legal under “fair use” laws. And it’s these practices that Gateway says it aims to protect by spreading the word about the bill to consumers.

Television, radio and online ads, along with in-store promotions, will encourage viewers to legally download music at Gateway.com and to learn about their current digital rights.

Slated to air Wednesday night, the television spot picks up from the company’s recent TV efforts, which feature Gateway Chairman and Chief Executive Ted Waitt and his talking Holstein cow on a PC-themed road trip. The new ad shows the two rocking out to Elwood’s cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown,” and encourages viewers to visit Gateway.com to legally download the song, and either to burn it on their CD player or listen to it on their MP3 player.

The ad, which was designed by Gateway’s agency Siltanen-Keehn, also states, “Gateway supports your right to enjoy digital music legally.”

Gateway also said that on Saturday, its chain of 277 retail stores would give away blank CD-R media and would host free, one-hour “digital music clinics” showing consumers how to burn CDs, use music software, and more.

“Digital technology allows consumers to enjoy music in new and exciting ways, but illegal piracy and government intervention both threaten to stop the music,” Waitt said in a statement. “Our customers are telling us clearly that they value digital music technology and they want to keep using it legally. This campaign is intended to show we support their right to do so while giving them the tools and information they need to understand and use digital music technology in ways that don’t harm copyright holders.”

Gateway said it had commissioned a survey last month that found that 44 percent of all owners of PCs in the U.S. also own a CD burner — suggesting that consumers are not only fond of digital music technology, but they want to keep using it. Additionally, the survey found that 73 percent of those who said they downloaded music from the Internet say they now spend the same or more money on music purchases. Fifty-three percent of PC-owners said they would be more likely to buy a CD if they could first download one track from the Internet. Only 10 percent say they’d be less likely to buy given this ability.

In addition to providing the “Sundown” track, Gateway.com also will host a rotating set of other free, legally downloadable MP3 songs, instructions on how to burn CDs without infringing on others’ copyrights, and the company’s statement on consumers’ digital music rights.

The campaign, and Gateway’s stance, comes amid redoubled efforts by music labels to stamp out CD-ripping while Congress debates legislation on the matter. So far, three CDs — “More Fast and Furious,” Charlie Pride’s “A Tribute to Jim Reeves” and Celine Dion’s “A New Day Has Come” — have come with copy protection schemes designed thwart ripping by being unusable on PCs, or by crashing the systems altogether.

Such practices by music labels, advocates note, would be protected under bills such as Hollings’.

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