Copycode: Diminishing DAT Gordon Holt's Letter to Reagan

Sidebar 2: Gordon Holt's Letter to President Reagan

May 18, 1987
The President
The White House
Washington, DC

Mr. President:

I am editor of America's oldest magazine for serious audiophiles, and I feel your support of the music industry's DAT anti-copy bill (HR-1384 and S-506) is ill-advised. Here's why:

First, the anti-copy encoding affects a range of musical frequencies spanning five whole notes, in the area where the human ear is most sensitive. It HAS to degrade the recorded sound, whether or not some people have the acuity to hear it. (Experienced listeners who have heard the encoder in action declare it to be very audible and quite unacceptable.)

Second, the disable/enable chip in DAT recorders will occasionally give false alarms when recording un-encoded material, making the system too unreliable for professional use. This will be bad news for the film industry, which has anticipated R-DAT as the ideal medium for on-location sound recording.

Third, CBS's anti-copy system would be easy to defeat, by a device any smart kid could make on his kitchen table. So even if it didn't degrade the sound, it is not going to be all that effective anyway.

Fourth, the law is wrongheaded from the start. Copyright law is to protect creators and their publishers from unfair competition from those who would copy, mass-produce, and sell their creation. The CBS system will not accomplish this. And the idea that a copyright should be construed as prohibiting private individuals from copying, for their own use, material which they have purchased is absurd. This DAT anti-copy law is no different from one that would outlaw (or prevent) your making a Xerox copy of a magazine article to send to your son!

The record industry would like everyone to buy a CD for their home and a cassette (or DAT tape) for their car, and maybe also an LP for their summer cottage. Consumers will just not do that. If they cannot copy from one format to another, they will simply buy one of them that best suits their needs. Few people will ever buy more than one version of a recording.

If this anti-copy bill becomes law, it will open a can of worms. The precedent will be set for, first, legislating similar anti-copy systems into video and non-digital audio recorders, then for outlawing all consumer tape-recording devices. Next would go Xerox-type copiers, computers with dual disc drives, character readers, and ultimately all devices capable of information duplication.

I think you will agree that it is a mistake to support this legislation.

Most respectfully yours,—J. Gordon Holt, Santa Fe, NM