Copyrights: Tech Blurs Control

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government mustn’t tinker with current copyright law. That’s what publishers, movie studios, and software makers told the Library of Congress on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government mustn’t tinker with current copyright law. That’s what publishers, movie studios, and software makers told the Library of Congress on Wednesday.

In a one-day hearing convened by the Copyright Office and required by the law, content owners suggested a let-well-enough-alone approach and said the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act was a reasonable balance between the rights of creators and consumers.

“The DMCA has had no negative effect on the ‘first sale’ doctrine, the emergence of new technologies, nor the relationship between products and commerce,” said Fritz Attaway, senior vice president of government relations for the Motion Picture Association of America.

The first sale doctrine states that once a copyright owner sells a copy of a book or CD, his or her rights to control further distribution are limited. This long-established standard allows used book markets and library lending to exist.

But critics of the DMCA say the law, enacted in 1998, robs the public of resale or redistribution rights that they previously enjoyed.

If a music track or a chapter of a book is encrypted and can be used only on one computer, a buyer can’t easily resell it and libraries can’t readily lend it. The rub: The DMCA makes it a crime to circumvent that technological protection scheme, and movie studios have used the act’s civil penalties to attack open-source programmers trying to play DVDs on Linux machines.

“Many measures currently in use or development blur control over initial access with control over library lending and fair use practices such as viewing, reading, extracting, copying and printing,” a coalition of library groups said in written comments sent to the Library of Congress in August.

“These measures may also allow copyright owners to control use and disposition of copies of digital works long after the copyrights have passed into the public domain…. This unlimited control is contrary to the core principle of the first sale doctrine.”

During Wednesday’s hearing, representatives of the American Association of Law Libraries, the American Library Association and the Association of Research Libraries argued that the DMCA had “diminished” consumers’ rights. The groups recommended that Congress modify copyright law when it reconvenes in January 2001.

One proposal that repeatedly came up during the meeting: H.R. 3048, a bill introduced in 1997 by Rep. Rick Boucher (R-Va).

The Digital Era Copyright Enhancement Act, which died in subcommittee, states that electronic transmission of copyrighted material “is not an infringement” as long as the person sending it deletes his or her copy at the same time.

Groups that indicated they supported such an approach include the Home Recording Rights Coalition — which includes recording hardware makers — and the Digital Future Coalition, both of which opposed the DMCA when Congress was debating it.

Red Hat also weighed in, cautioning in testimony that any change to copyright law should take “copyleft licenses” — used in many open source projects — into account. Otherwise, Red Hat said, it could be possible to use software published under a copyleft agreement without following the terms of the license.

For their part, large content owners uniformly objected to changing that part of the DMCA.

“Amending the first sale doctrine as is proposed would scare content providers and owners — who are not in the business of not making their content available to the public — away from the Internet,” said Bernard Sorkin, senior counsel at Time Warner. Sorkin added that he “opposes any changes” to the DMCA.

“In terms of copyright law, Gutenberg’s printing press was a bombshell. But what we potentially have today is a nuclear bomb,” Sorkin said.

Emery Simon of the Business Software Alliance, which includes Microsoft, Adobe and Novell, said: “Since DMCA, e-commerce has growm tremendously. Thus there is no evidence that suggests a necessary change in the law.”

The DMCA requires the Registrar of Copyrights to submit a report on the law’s impact to Congress, which is expected by the end of Feburary 2001.

The Copyright Office opened public hearings that started in June and continued over the next six months. Wednesday’s hearing was the final call for public testimony.

Nicholas Morehead contributed to this report.

Author: Declan McCullagh

News Service: Wired News


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