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Congressional Christmas Present for Home Taping: Digital Audio

October 16, 1992

WASHINGTON (AP) _ You’ve replaced your old vinyl record albums with the sharper sound of compact discs, but you still must revert to lesser quality cassette tape to make copies of your CDs.

No more. This year’s Christmas list can include digital recording equipment because of legislation passed in the waning days of Congress and expected to be signed soon by President Bush.

It enables mass retailing of blank digital discs and tapes and digital player-recorders that will make copies that sound as good as the original.

But there’s a drawback. You’ll have to pay a few extra dollars in royalties to the music industry, and the industry has fixed it so you won’t be able to make copies of copies.

It’s a small inconvenience, lawmakers decided, to break the logjam that had prevented digital audio tape, or DAT, technology from getting to consumers for the past 10 years.

″We do think that digital technology holds a lot of opportunity,″ said Ann Collier, spokeswoman for Circuit City, the nation’s largest speciality retailer of brand name consumer electronics. ″We expect a high level of interest.″

″People will buy them,″ said Shira Sears of 47th Street Photo, a major New York City electronics retailer that ships all over the world.

She said a DAT Walkman by Sony, which records digital quality sound and has already been on the market, is on ″heavy back order. Nobody can get them.″

Recording companies were using copyright infringement lawsuits to block these new products until Congress stepped in and agreed that the companies and artists should be compensated for anticipated sales losses.

″We lose $1.5 billion to $2 billion a year as a result of people who tape at home - and that’s with current technology analog systems,″ said Tim Sites of the Recording Industry Association of America. ″But now you have this new technology where you can make endless perfect copies.″

To compensate recording companies, artists and composers, there will be a 3 percent charge on blank discs and tapes and a 2 percent charge on the recording equipment.

Congress also has decided that once a copy has been made it must be impossible to duplicate. In other words, you can make copies of favorite commercially recorded CDs for your friends, but your friends won’t be able to copy the copy.

The tape or disc is encoded to prevent it from being copied, said John Roach, president and chief executive officer of the Tandy Corp., which is introducing its Optimus digital compact cassette recorder next month. The equipment will record digitally and play either digital or standard analog tapes.

Philips, Technics and Marantz also are introducing digital cassette recorders. They’ll range in price from $699 to $799, with blank tapes selling for about $10 each.

Sony Corp. has a ″mini-disc″ player and a player-recorder coming out in December that use 2 1/2 -inch discs.

The player is small enough to carry while jogging and is expected to retail for $549. The recorder-player will sell for $749, a company spokesman said.

The Supreme Court decided in the 1970s when video recorders came on the market that people had a right to make copies of programming for their own use.

But digital recording posed a new problem.

Unlike the analog systems used by VCRs and audio tape cassettes, which lose quality as successive copies are made, digital recording can reproduce perfectly from one generation to the next.

Analog systems read the surface of the LP or tape, including scratches or other imperfections. Those imperfections accumulate as subsequent copies are made so that no copy can be as good as the commercially produced master product.

But digital technology uses precise computer language to transform data on the disc or tape to sound. That data can be duplicated repeatedly with no discernible loss in quality.

So, even with the provisions established by Congress, ″for people who like to have the latest and greatest this is likely to be on the top of their Christmas list,″ Roach said.

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