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Business News (more headlines) 05-16-2004

Congressman Boucher Urges Protection Of Fair Use

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(Washington, D.C.) The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection today held a hearing on H.R. 107, the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act, a bill introduced by Congressman Rick Boucher which would protect the "Fair Use" rights of the users of copyrighted material and thereby enable consumers of digital media to make use of it in ways which would enhance their personal convenience. Congressman Boucher (VA-09) first introduced the legislation with Congressman John Doolittle (CA-04) during the fall of 2002 and reintroduced the bill at the beginning of the 108th Congress. Today's hearing marks the first step in enacting the legislation.

"The fair use doctrine is threatened today as never before. Historically, the nation's copyright laws have reflected a carefully calibrated balanced between the rights of copyright owners and the rights of the users of copyrighted material. 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," Boucher said. "H.R. 107 will assure that consumers who purchase digital media can enjoy a broad range of uses of the media for their own convenience in a manner which does not infringe the copyright in the work," Boucher explained.

H.R. 107 addresses two key provisions of the 1998 law which prohibit the circumvention of a technical protection measure guarding access to a copyrighted work even if the purpose of the circumvention is to exercise consumer Fair Use rights. First, the bill would limit the scope of the prohibition to circumvention for the purpose of copyright infringement. Circumvention for the purpose of exercising Fair Use rights would be permitted under the legislation.

In addition, the bill would also amend the provisions of the 1998 law which prohibit the manufacture, distribution or sale of technology which enables circumvention of the protection measures. Under the current law, trafficking in those technologies is a crime if the technology was primarily designed to be used for copyright infringement. Since this legal standard is too subjective to give manufacturers confidence to introduce new products, the legislation would instead focus on whether or not the technology has substantial non-infringing uses. If the technology is capable of substantial non-infringing use, the manufacture, distribution, and sale of the product would be lawful.

"Without a change in the existing law, individuals will be less willing to purchase digital media if their use of the media within the home is severely circumscribed. In addition, manufacturers of equipment and software which enable circumvention for legitimate purposes will be reluctant to introduce the products into the market," Boucher added.

The Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act has received bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, including the support of Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) as a co-author. Other co-sponsors include Representatives Andrews (NJ-01), Bachus (AL-06), Bartlett (MD-06), Bell (TX-25), Case (HI-02), Doolittle (CA-04), Kildee (MI-25), Lofgren (CA-16), McDermott (WA-07), McHugh (NY-23), Norton (DC), Owens (NY-11), Price (NC-04) and Wilson (SC-02).

Corporate and other private supporters of the bill include Intel, Philips Consumer Electronics North America, Sun Microsystems, Verizon, BellSouth, Qwest, Gateway, SonicBlue, Red Hat, Consumer Electronics Association, Video Software Dealers Association, National Humanities Alliance, Association of American Universities, American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, American Association of Law Libraries, Medical Library Association, Special Libraries Association, Art Libraries Society of North America, Home Recording Rights Coalition, Digital Future Coalition, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, Public Knowledge, National Writers Union, United Auto Workers Local 1981, American Foundation for the Blind, Computer Research Association, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, Consumer Project on Technology, Association for Computing Machinery (Public Policy Committee), Electronic Frontier Foundation and 3-2-1 Studios.

"I am pleased that Chairman Barton has agreed to my request for this hearing. I look forward to continuing my work with the Chairman and the other Members of the Committee on Energy and Commerce to ensure the proper protection of Fair Use rights for consumers," Boucher concluded.

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