Senate scales back copyright bill

The Senate passed a scaled-back version of a copyright bill in the final pre-Thanksgiving holiday hours, keeping a provision that imposes severe penalties on people caught with camcorders in movie theaters, but scrapping other provisions that copyright-reform activists had criticized.

The Senate passed the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2004 (SB3021) a revised version of the Intellectual Property Protection Act (HR2391), which had cobbled together a handful of copyright-related bills. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration in early December.

Digital rights groups said that while there is still cause for concern in the bill, it is a vast improvement over the previous version. The Motion Picture Association of America and Recording Industry Association of America supported harsher versions of the bill.

Provisions from the Artists’ Rights and Theft Prevention Act were kept in the bill. The act sends a person who brings an audiovisual recording device into a movie theater (to make a copy of a film) to prison for three years. The legislation also increases penalties for people who distribute films or music before the products are released commercially.

But the bill removed several provisions that had upset consumer advocates, like the Pirate Act (SB2237), which would have allowed the attorney general to file civil lawsuits against copyright infringers. Critics argued that this would use taxpayer money to fund the copyright battles of the movie and music industries. Entertainment companies have already filed lawsuits against alleged infringers.

The bill preserves the rights of consumers to use devices like ClearPlay, which uses technology that makes movies family-friendly by automatically skipping over violence and sexual situations on-screen. Language that could have prevented the use of this technology to skip commercials was taken out.

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