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07.27.2004
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
Proposed piracy legislation will impact viewers' rights

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is pushing legislation could have a major impact of consumer television technology. Called the “Induce Act,” the bill would allow recording companies and movie studios to sue peer-to-peer networks like Kazaa for enticing people who use their software to illegally share and download copyrighted music and video for free.

Hatch has powerful support for the bill, which he co-authored with Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), the committee’s top Democrat. The legislation also enjoys support from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), both of whom are co-sponsors. Marybeth Peters, head of the U.S. Copyright Office, has announced her support.

But opposition to the legislation is mounting, reports The Washington Post. The bill would allow copyright owners to sue people or companies that deliberately incite people into violating copyright law, a move that technology companies, software engineers and civil liberties advocates say could open the door for lawsuits against popular music players like the iPod and even the omnipresent DVD player and VCR.

“I cannot find one technology company that supports this bill as written,” Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association, said. “This legislation gives them [copyright owners] a deadly new tool to stop any new technology they don’t like.”

Recording devices like the VCR are protected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1984 decision in the “Betamax” case, in which the court ruled that Sony did not violate copyright law with its Beta videocassette recorders just because its users could make bootleg recordings of movies and television programs.

Hatch and Leahy contend the bill would not target legitimate recording equipment and that it would single out only companies and people who survive by deliberately promoting copyright infringement.

But Kevin McGuiness, executive director of NetCoalition, a group that represents Google, Yahoo and a handful of other Internet firms, said the bill puts too much power in the hands of copyright owners. Calling the Internet a “big copying machine,” McGuiness said lawyers could use the measure in a way that would “jeopardize the essential architecture of the Internet.”

Hatch urged supporters and opponents of the bill to help him develop a compromise that protects legitimate manufacturers while allowing copyright owners to protect their rights.

“If you help us, we just might get it right, but if you don’t we’re going to do it [anyway],” Hatch said.

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