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Proposed Bill Would Amend Copyright Act

Washington, D.C. – Two separate bills to preserve consumers’ ‘Fair Use’ recording rights to digital media were proposed by two House Democats this month.

About a week after the House Commerce Committee conducted a public hearing on draft language for possible legislation on the digital television transition, U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) presented a bill that would codify Fair Use rights, which had been addressed on in court decisions.

The Lofgren bill would seek to prevent the circumvention of technology to illegally reproduce copy righted content, but would allow consumers to make Fair Use copies of material they had acquired legally. The Digital Millennium Copy Right Act, she said, protected producer’s rights but failed to address consumers Fair Use rights.

A day later, Congressmen Rick Boucher (D-VA) and John Doolittle (R-CA) also introduced proposed legislation aimed at amending the Digital Millennium Copy Right Act (DMCA) to protect consumers’ Fair Use rights to copyrighted content on digital media.

Called the Digital Media Consumer Rights’ Act, the bill was announced one week after a House Commerce Committee public hearing on draft language for possible legislation on the digital television transition.

‘Historically, the nation’s copyright laws have reflected a carefully calibrated balance between the rights of copyright owners and the rights of the users of copyrighted material,’ Boucher stated at a press conference announcing the bill. ‘The Digital Millennium Copyright Act dramatically tilted the copyright balance toward complete copyright protection at the expense of the Fair Use rights of the users of copyrighted material.’

The bill would limit the scope of the DMCA to circumvention for the purpose of copyright infringement, while enabling copying copy righted content for Fair Use rights.

‘We believe it is entirely proper to outlaw circumvention for the purpose of copyright infringement; however, a person who is circumventing a technical measure solely for the purpose of using that material under classic Fair Use principles should be free to do so,’ Doolittle said.

The Bill would also amend the provisions of the 1998 law that prohibit the manufacture, distribution or sale of technology that enables circumvention of the protection measures.

The Boucher-Doolittle bill would focus on whether or not the technology had ‘substantial non-infringing uses.’

Additionally, the congressmen want the Federal Trade Commission to promulgate a regulation requiring that ‘copy protected CDs’ be properly labeled.

‘The few copy protected CDs which have been introduced into the U.S. market to date are inadequately labeled and create broad consumer confusion,’ Boucher said.

Companies who appeared at the press conference in support of the measure included: Intel, Verizon, Philips, Sun Microsystems, Gateway and the CEA.

The CEA praised both measures.

‘Representative Lofgren’s bill brings the debate back to reality by accurately defining and addressing the critical balance between fair use rights and copyright in the digital age,’ said CEA president Gary Shapiro.

Commenting on the Boucher/Doolittle bill, Shapiro stated: ‘Everywhere we look, Americans’ fair use rights and the Supreme Court’s Betamax holding are under attack. Representatives Boucher and Doolittle recognize that, as we move into the digital age, the public needs these protections to be strengthened, not weakened.’

Other trade organizations showing support included: the American Library Association, the American Association of Universities, the Digital Future Coalition, the Consumers Union, the Home Recording Rights Coalition, Public Knowledge and others.

Because only a short time remains in the current congressional session, the congressmen said they announced the bill in ‘staking out a position on what is certain to be a hotly-debated topic’ when the next Congress convenes in January.