Senate may try to rush passage of copyright bill

There’s worry in Congress that the Senate might vote to overhaul the current copyright law
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Several lobbying camps from different industries and ideologies are joining forces to fight an overhaul of copyright law, which they say would radically shift in favor of Hollywood and the record companies and which Congress might try to push through during a lame-duck session.

There was worry that the Senate might vote on HR2391, the Intellectual Property Protection Act, a comprehensive bill that opponents charge could make many users of peer-to-peer networks, digital-music players and other products criminally liable for copyright infringement. The bill would also undo centuries of “fair use” — the principle that gives Americans the right to use small samples of the works of others without having to ask permission or pay.

The bill lumps together several pending copyright bills, including HR4077, the Piracy Deterrence and Education Act, which would criminally punish a person who “infringes a copyright by ... offering for distribution to the public by electronic means, with reckless disregard of the risk of further infringement.” Critics charge the vague language could apply to a person who uses the popular Apple iTunes music-sharing application.

The bill would also permit people to use technology to skip objectionable content — like a gory or sexually explicit scene — in films, a right that consumers already have. However, under the proposed law, skipping any commercials or promotional announcements would be prohibited. The proposed law also includes language from the Pirate Act (S2237), which would permit the justice department to file civil lawsuits against alleged copyright infringers.

Also under the proposed law, people who bring a video camera into a movie theater to make a copy of the film for distribution would be imprisoned for three years, fined or both.

The groups that lined up against the bill include the Consumer Electronics Association, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, the American Conservative Union and public-interest advocacy group Public Knowledge. They are calling for the Senate to postpone consideration of the bill until at least next year, when there would be more time for hearings and debate.

The entertainment industry has been lobbying hard for quick Senate passage during the lame-duck session, with opponents gearing up for a tough fight.

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