New bill calls for drastic changes to DCMA

By Jon Newton 1/17/03

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the brainchild of the Big Five American record labels and enacted to serve them, the movie studios and book publishers, will be radically amended to protect users if US representatives Rick Boucher (D-VA), John Doolittle (R-CA), Spencer Bachus (R-AL) and Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) have their way.

"The fair use doctrine is threatened today as never before," says Boucher. "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."

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Boucher, Doolittle, Bachus and Kennedy have re-introduced the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act, originally put forward by Boucher and Doolittle last fall, to, "assure that consumers who purchase digital media can enjoy a broad range of uses of the media for their own convenience in a way which does not infringe the copyright in the work," Boucher says.

It addresses key provisions of the 1998 DMCA 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.

Supporters include Intel, Verizon, Philips Electronics North America Corporation, Sun Microsystems, Gateway, the Consumer Electronics Association, Computer and Communications Industry Association, the Association for Computing Machinery, the Computer Research Association and a variety of trade associations representing technology companies, the American Library Association, the American Association of Universities, the National Humanities Alliance, the Digital Future Coalition, the Consumers Union, the Home Recording Rights Coalition, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, the National Writers Union and, "other organizations representing the public interest and the consumers of digital media".

The new 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.

"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 also amends 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. However, under the new bill, legislation would instead focus on whether or not the technology had "substantial non-infringing uses" and if it did, the manufacture, distribution, and sale of the product would be lawful.

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

The new law would also would direct the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to require that "copy-protected CDs" be properly labeled.

"The few copy-protected CDs which have been introduced into the US market to date are inadequately labeled and create broad consumer confusion," Boucher believes. "We are not proposing to outlaw the introduction of copy-protected CDs. We, however, want to ensure that if copy-protected CDs are introduced in larger volumes, consumers will know what they are buying," Doolittle states. If you have any thoughts on this, email us here.

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Jon Newton is the editor of and is a regular contributer to MP3 Newswire. Jon's site is devoted to the politics of digital music and his insights as well as those of his co-writers can be read there. We urge you to explore it.

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The MP3 Winners of 2002

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