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Congressmen Begin Legislative Battle For Fair Use

An assembly of home recording rights activists from multiple associations and industries announced at CES the start of a Capitol Hill offensive to preserve consumers’ fair use recording rights in the digital age.

Congressmen Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and John Doolittle (R-Calif.) formally pledged to continue their fight for passage of the Digital Media Consumers’ Rights Act of 2003 (HR 107), which they introduced in Washington this month. The proposed legislation would “confirm the Supreme Court’s Betamax standard, reform the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, and impose stiff labeling requirements on anti-copy CDs.”

Boucher said the goal of the legislation is “to make sure that people who purchase digital media can use that media for the purposes of their own convenience in the home.”

He said, “The fair use doctrine that underlies those rights is threatened today as never before. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which was adopted by Congress in 1998, makes it very difficult to exercise fair use rights with regard to digital media because in enables the creators of content to place a technological-protection measure around the content.”

Boucher said HR 107 makes two key changes to the standing DMCA. First, it would protect the act of bypassing copy-protection measures for legitimate fair use rights, while ensuring that those who bypass copy-protection measures for illicit purposes remain subject to the penalties of the DMCA and liable for copyright infringement. Second, it protects CE manufacturers from liability under the DMCA if someone uses their products to infringe copyrights, as long as those products “are capable of substantial non-infringing use.”

“That provision will give manufacturers the assurance they need to continue that tremendous innovation that we see here at CES,” Boucher said.

The announcement was sponsored by the Home Recording Rights Coalition, as part of a 2003 “Fight For Fair Use” campaign it is waging along with a number of other consumer-oriented groups.

“We’ve been on the defensive,” declared Gary Shapiro, CEA president and HRRC chairman. “For 2003, I think it’s time that we took the initiative instead of always being on the defensive.”

Shapiro said the focus of the Fight For Use campaign “is to mobilize grassroots support” for the Digital Media Consumers’ Rights Act and “to move the Washington D.C. fair-use community from defense to offense.”

Echoing that, bill co-sponsor John Doolittle said, “You can never fight on defense and expect to win unless you are overwhelmingly powerful.”

Boucher said the next step on the long road to passage of the bill is to enlist the support of other congressmen and to encourage the sponsorship and passage of corresponding legislation in the Senate.