A bill introduced Wednesday in the U.S. House of Representatives approaches digital rights management (DRM) from consumers’ standpoint by ensuring that people who buy digital media can make backup copies and play them on whatever device they like without fear of breaking copyright law, according to the bill’s sponsor.
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Representative Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from California whose district includes Silicon Valley, introduced the bill, saying the legislation seeks to maintain in the digital age the same balance that existing U.S. copyright law establishes between the interest of copyright holders in controlling the use of their works and the interests of the public in the free flow of ideas, information and commerce.
“Consumers need a voice in this debate,” a release issued by Lofgren’s office quotes the congresswoman as saying. “Right now it is the entertainment industry versus the technology industry, and the consumers are watching from the sidelines.”
The bill seeks to punish digital pirates without treating every consumer as a criminal, the release said. Lofgren noted that current proposals to combat digital piracy focus on “locking down” content and controlling how consumers use it. Cryptographic tools currently under development, for example, could play a role in legislative efforts to prevent copyright violations of DVDs.
The bill also prohibits shrink-wrapped licenses, also known as EULAs (end-user license agreements), that limit consumer rights, and the proposal clarifies the ways in which consumers can legally sell, archive or give away copies of digital works they purchased. In addition the law gives flexibility to digital content owners to develop new ways to protect their content and enable its use without violating copyright law.
Lofgren’s bill is supported by the Computer & Communications Industry Association, the Association of Research Libraries and the public interest advocacy organization Public Knowledge, all based in Washington. It is also backed by Stanford Law School Professor Larry Lessig, founder of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society.
A related bill will be introduced Thursday by Representatives Rick Boucher, a Democrat from Virginia, and John Doolittle, a Republican from California.
The measure aims to reaffirm “fair use” rights for digital media, a spokeswoman for Boucher said Wednesday. The bill is broadly supported by technology companies, according to Boucher’s office, and representatives of Sun Microsystems Inc., Intel Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. are among supporters who will attend a press conference Boucher and Doolittle have scheduled for Thursday, the spokeswoman said.
Fair use refers to the right given to people who use digital media and other intellectual property to copy works in a reasonable manner for their own personal use. Fair use makes it legal, for example, for a consumer to copy a music CD for personal use, to create a compilation of songs from various artists.
Boucher’s office announced plans in May to introduce legislation designed to reinstate consumers’ fair use rights regarding copyright material, saying those rights were eclipsed by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) signed into law in 1998. The DMCA was designed to protect copyright holders’ rights in light of digital reproduction technology and the ease of transmission over the Internet, but critics say it went too far.
A section of the DMCA makes it a criminal offense to circumvent copyright protection technology for any purpose. Boucher’s measure would modify that section of the act so that consumers can skirt copyright protection technology in order to exercise their fair use rights. The Recording Industry Association of America Inc., which has been heavily involved in crafting DRM legislation, had no comment on either bill.
The Business Software Alliance said it had “reservations” about Lofgren’s approach and the changes to the DMCA it proposes.
“The DMCA’s prohibitions, in our view, remain important,” Robert Holleyman, president and chief executive officer of the Business Software Alliance (BSA), based in Washington, said in a statement. The BSA statement also said the organization doesn’t believe Lofgren’s bill will achieve its intended goal, but instead would make it harder for software companies to take action against pirates by allowing them to claim that their intent in defeating technological protection measures was legitimate even if it resulted in mass infringement.
The two bills will be added to a congressional hopper that already contains DRM proposals, but those proposals take a “consumer sentiment” approach and address the idea of setting into law the concept of fair use of digital media, said Evan R. Cox, a partner in the San Francisco office of the law firm Covington & Burling.
While pending bills, proposed by Senator Fritz Hollings, a Democrat from South Carolina, and Representative Howard Berman, a Democrat from California, are designed to give copyright holders greater protection — Hollings’ bill by putting safeguards to protect digital content on all consumer devices, and Berman’s bill by giving copyright holders liability protection for “self-help” measures used to block downloading — Lofgren’s bill limits the protection of copyright holders.
“What you are seeing with (Lofgren’s) bill is some further staking out of position,” Cox said. “Nothing in this bill is designed to strengthen copyright holders in any way.”
Cox added that with adjournment scheduled for Oct. 11, none of the bills has a chance of passing before the current session of Congress comes to an end. But some will be reintroduced after the new session of Congress begins next year. Many members of Congress would prefer to see the entertainment and technology industries work things out privately so that there would be no need for legislation, he said.
David Maher, vice president of public policy for the Internet Society, said his organization released its position on DRM in August. It said it strongly opposes attempts to impose governmental technology mandates that are designed to protect only the economic interests of certain owners of intellectual property over the economic interests of much larger portions of society.
“What we are worried about is the government intervening in technology,” Maher said. “The last thing in the world that the technology world needs are laws telling them how to write code or how to build a chip.”