California Return to Sender Bill for CDs/DVDs Passes Committee

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A California bill that would require mailers sending unsolicited CDs and DVDs to include a postage-paid return mailer passed out of the California Assembly Natural Resources Committee by a 7-3 vote this week.


The bill next will be heard April 27 by the Assembly Art, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media Committee. If it passes out of this committee, it goes to the Assembly floor.


Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, introduced the bill, AB 2166, in February. Its sponsor is Californians Against Waste. Hancock spokesman Gael Eads expects the bill to pass the Assembly in the first two weeks of May. The bill then moves on to the Senate.


The bill also mandates a postage-paid return mailer be included with EZ-D, a DVD that becomes unusable after 48 hours, so that the DVD may be returned for recycling. EZ-Ds are available in limited test markets and are expected to be on sale in supermarkets and video stores soon. High-grade plastic can be reclaimed and converted into dashboards, Hancock has said, but only when large numbers are collected.


Currently, primary distributors of CDs via the mail are AOL and Disney. However, all distributors are included in AB 2166, which mandates that the producer/distributor of the CD/DVD bears the cost of returning the unwanted CD, or erased DVD, to a recycler.


A spokesman for America Online Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Time Warner Inc. based in Dulles, VA, said the bill as presented would harm consumers and small to midsize businesses in California and elsewhere.


"I think it would be unduly prohibitive in terms of potentially increasing costs of products and services for consumers in California that are delivered by direct mail using CDs and DVDs and so forth," AOL spokesman Nicholas J. Graham said. "I think the application in the bill could be much broader than anticipated and impacts not just the software industry but also the movie, music and other entertainment industries that truly rely on CDs and DVDs to carry their product."


He also claimed the bill is discriminatory.


"Why should online companies, ISPs and other software manufacturers be singled out and targeted in a very punitive way that only serves to make it more difficult for online consumers to get the latest software upgrades once you get online by receiving these items in the mail?" he said.


California consumers, Graham said, "may end up losing out because companies may decide that complying with this law if it were enacted would be so cost-prohibitive that they may decide not to make their products or services available by mail to consumers in California."


Graham said that AOL takes recycling seriously.


"We recycle the discs as well as the packaging that they come in," he said, noting that the company also honors consumers' wishes to stop getting AOL CDs in the mail.


Graham said that the bill "as written now is anti-business, anti-consumer, very paternalistic and discriminatory and, frankly, just plain half-baked."


Meanwhile, James McKenna and John Lieberman, two California residents who have collected nearly 300,000 AOL CDs from disgruntled recipients for several years, loaded two trucks with part of their collection and dumped them on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento on April 15. They plan to deliver the CDs to AOL headquarters when they reach 1 million.


McKenna and Lieberman run a Web site called NoMoreAOLCDs.com.


In response, Graham said, "we think we have a more practical, responsible and efficient way of recycling our CDs, but certainly, if these individuals reach 1 million CDs, I'd be happy to provide them with directions to AOL headquarters, and leave the light on for them and take those CDs and recycle them responsibly and appropriately."


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