In a few years, Americans may not be able to copy a song off a CD, watch a recorded DVD at a friend's house, or store a copy of a television show for more than a day.
Earlier this month, the Federal Communications Commission approved regulations that would require television manufacturers to include anticopying technology in the next generation of televisions. The technology would identify programs that broadcasters do not want consumers to copy without first paying a fee.
And in Congress, lawmakers are considering a bill that would require all digital devices, and the software that runs them, to include a copyright protection system. The system would make it impossible for consumers to make unauthorized copies of music, movies, and television programs.
Such protections, proponents say, would give Hollywood an incentive to offer more entertainment in digital format, thereby spurring consumers' adoption of such technologies as high-definition TV and broadband services.
"The entertainment industry historically has been very, very slow to embrace technology because of concerns about piracy," says Mark Kersey, a broadband analyst with ARS, a market research firm in La Jolla, Calif.
Millions of consumers, for example, already watch pay-per-view movies and undoubtedly would pay for the ability to download digital movies onto their set-top boxes. But consumer advocates argue that the flood of digital entertainment for the home would come at a high cost, both in terms of money and consumer flexibility.
Currently individuals can legally record TV shows, make digital audio files of CDs, and lend books to friends. Such activity is protected under a federal "fair use" statute, which takes into consideration most consumers' need for flexibility.
New regulations being discussed significantly erase fair-use rights in the name of piracy prevention. Ultimately, the entertainment industry hopes to charge consumers for what they now do free of charge.