[Tech] Possible Copyright Laws May Threaten Producers And Digital Media Users

WASHINGTON — Several lobbying camps from different industries and ideologies are joining forces to fight an overhaul of copyright law, which they say would radically shift in favor of Hollywood and the record companies and which Congress might try to push through during a lame-duck session that begins this week.

The Senate might vote on the Intellectual Property Protection Act, a comprehensive bill that opponents charge could make many users of peer-to-peer networks, digital-music players and other products criminally liable for copyright infringement. The bill would also undo centuries of “fair use” — the principle that gives Americans the right to use small samples of the works of others without having to ask permission or pay.

The bill lumps together several pending copyright bills including HR4077, the Piracy Deterrence and Education Act, which would criminally punish a person who “infringes a copyright by … offering for distribution to the public by electronic means, with reckless disregard of the risk of further infringement.” Critics charge the vague language could apply to a person who uses the popular Apple iTunes music-sharing application.

The bill would also permit people to use technology to skip objectionable content — like a gory or sexually explicit scene — in films, a right that consumers already have. However, under the proposed law, skipping any commercials or promotional announcements would be prohibited. The proposed law also includes language from the Pirate Act (S2237), which would permit the Justice Department to file civil lawsuits against alleged copyright infringers.

Also under the proposed law, people who bring a video camera into a movie theater to make a copy of the film for distribution would be imprisoned for three years, fined or both.

The Recording Industry Association of America vigorously defended the bill, saying it would provide a “common sense set of tools that will help law enforcement better deter and prosecute theft.”

“This legislation enjoys overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress. Many pieces of it already have unanimously passed one house of Congress,” RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy wrote in an e-mail. “The intellectual property industries are one of our leading national exports, and it’s approprate for the federal government to have a role in protecting those sectors from rampant piracy.”

The groups that lined up against the bill include the Consumer Electronics Association, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, the American Conservative Union and public-interest advocacy group Public Knowledge, which hosted a press briefing on Friday as the opening salvo of its campaign to stop passage.

The groups are calling for the Senate to postpone consideration of the bill until at least next year, when there would be more time for hearings and debate.

In addition, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairmanship of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) will expire next year, with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) in line to take over the committee. Bill opponents hope Specter would take a different approach to copyright law than Hatch, who has been an advocate of several bills that have rankled public-interest, technology and consumer-electronics camps.

The entertainment industry has been lobbying hard for quick Senate passage during the lame-duck session, with opponents gearing up for a tough fight.

Hollywood’s involvement has even irked the American Conservative Union, which holds considerable sway with conservative Republicans in Congress. The ACU plans a major print ad campaign this week to oppose the bill, mainly because some provisions would require the Justice Department to file civil copyright lawsuits on behalf of the entertainment industry.

“It’s just plain wrong to make the Department of Justice Hollywood’s law firm,” said Stacie Rumenap, ACU’s deputy director.

The Motion Picture Association of America also defended the bill.

“There are components there that we think are critical for the health of a vibrant film industry and intellectual property as a whole,” said Rich Taylor, a spokesman for the MPAA. Specifically, the camcording provision and allowing the Justice Department to prosecute copyright infringers are important to the movie trade group, he said.

Credit: Wired.com