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MUSIC INDUSTRY TRIES TO THWART SALE OF DIGITAL TAPE RECORDERS

Composers and publishers are making a last-ditch effort in Congress to ban U.S. sale of tape recorders that can make near-perfect copies of musical recordings.

With foreign manufacturers poised to introduce so-called digital audio tape - or DAT - recorders this summer, a group of music publishers, writers and composers urged a Senate panel to reject legislation that would allow the machines to be sold if they incorporated anti-copying technology.The bill before the Senate Commerce communications subcommittee, sponsored by Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., would require manufacturers to install computer-chip technology called a serial copy management system on DAT machines. This system would allow a user to copy a compact disc onto as many digital audio tapes as desired, but the tapes could not be copied.

The bill is based upon an agreement reached in Athens last year between manufacturers and record companies. But songwriters and composers, who like musicians earn a percentage of the price of each recording sold in stores, complained that their interests were disregarded.

The artists believe the virtually perfect copying ability of DAT machines will make them more popular than today's relatively inferior tape recording systems that use "analog" technology to duplicate sound waves. Digital taping use the 0s and 1s of computer language to re-create sound.

Artists claim the bill for the first time would legalize home copying - a gray area of copyright law that Congress increasingly is being pressed to resolve through legislation.

George David Weiss, representing the Copyright Coalition, said the bill "forces songwriters to give away copies of our music without payment of any kind."

Manufacturers say these claims are unfounded and that home taping actually stimulates record sales.

However, the artists found sympathy from several subcommittee members, including the panel's chairman, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.

"The time has come for the people who create to get a piece of the action," Inouye said.

A move for quick passage of the Senate DAT bill hit another snag when a recording industry executive said he wanted to hold talks with manufacturers on a new technology called "digital compact cassette."

The new compact cassette machines from Philips Consumer Electronics will record and play both digital and analog tapes.

Jay Berman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, said the Philips machine had not been discussed in Athens and he wanted to talk to manufacturers about it.