03.15.2007 08:00 AM
Fair use legislation introduced in Congress

Reps. Rick Boucher, D-VA, and John Dolittle, R-CA, have introduced legislation in the House that would clarify fair use policies and make it easier for consumers to use the digital media that they legally purchase.

Called the Freedom and Innovation Revitalizing U.S. Entrepreneurship (or FAIR USE) Act, the congressmen framed the legislation as a digital bill of rights that clearly states what consumers are legally allowed to do with commercial media.

Today, content owners often dictate prohibited uses of their media to consumers when such uses are actually not legally prohibited. Many of these prohibited uses in the eyes of the media companies are actually fair use under well-established policies from the analog era.

The concept of fair use, Wired News said in a recent report, essentially allows end users to make copies of protected works for scholarly, educational or satirical purposes. It is not a right per se; instead, it's an affirmative defense, meaning that if a party is sued for copyright infringement, that party can offer the defense of fair use in court.

Boucher and Doolittle seek to amend the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) passed in 1998. "The Digital Millennium Copyright Act dramatically tilted the copyright balance toward complete copyright protection at the expense of the public's right to fair use," Boucher said in a statement. "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."

The new bill would allow exemptions to the anti-circumvention restrictions in the DMCA. This provision sent feathers flying with the recording industry. The RIAA, in opposing the new bill, claimed it would "legalize hacking." The bill would effectively repeal the DMCA, and would "allow electronics companies to induce others to break the law for their own profit," the RIAA said.

Provisions in the bill would limit the availability of statutory damages against individuals and firms who may be found to have engaged in contributory infringement, inducement of infringement or other indirect infringement. It would allow libraries to circumvent digital locks or secure copies of works that have been damaged, lost or stolen.

The Consumer Electronics Association supported the bill, saying it would protect consumers, educators and libraries. Without fair use protections, consumers couldn't use devices such as VCRs and digital TV recorders, the trade group said.

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