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Gateway Plans Anti-Piracy Classes

Computers: The free sessions will discuss legal ways to download music and copy CDs. Critics question their motives.


Rip, mix, learn?

Computer retailer Gateway Inc. plans to provide free classes to consumers on the do's and don'ts of online music, showing how to download music and burn CDs without violating copyrights.

The three-hour classes--to be held at all 274 Gateway Country retail stores--may help deflect criticism from record-label executives. The executives argue that companies such as Gateway encourage consumers to pirate music and movies online to boost sales of their computers, CD recorders and related gear.

Some music and movie industry leaders back a bill in the Senate to mandate anti-piracy technology in computers and other digital devices, a proposal Gateway opposes. Other groups want lawmakers to slap a special tax on the sale of computers, Internet connections and blank CDs to compensate copyright holders for piracy.

Computer firms including Apple Computer Inc. have infuriated the entertainment industry over the last several years, as hardware makers tout the power of their equipment to swap music and movies.

Gateway spokesman Brad Williams said the way to fight piracy is by offering consumers a compelling legitimate alternative. Although the music industry has "some very legitimate grievances" about piracy, he said, "we haven't seen much from the major labels in terms of educating consumers."

The classes "sound cool, but I'd like to see the training guide," said Hilary Rosen, chairwoman of the Washington-based Recording Industry Assn. of America, which represents the nation's five largest music corporations. "Call me cynical but optimistic."

Analyst Aram Sinnreich of Jupiter Research, a technology consulting firm, called the classes "a brilliant little piece of PR" that gives Gateway political cover "simultaneously as they're promoting the music-stealing ability of their machines."

Tension between Gateway and the music industry increased in April when the San Diego-based computer company launched a radio, television, online and in-store advertising campaign to rally support for consumers' right to download music from the Internet. The RIAA derided the advertising campaign, saying Gateway was using "misleading scare tactics" to frighten consumers into buying more of the company's products.

Williams said the free courses will encourage consumers to download music only when it's authorized by the copyright holders, such as at the artists' Web sites or from a subscription service such as EMusic. As for burning CDs, Williams said, Gateway believes that it's legal only when consumers are recording copies for personal use of CDs they already own.

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