Rep. Howard Coble (R-North Carolina) introduced late yesterday the WIPO Copyright and Performances and Phonograms Treaty Implementation Act, which would adopt treaties signed by the United States at the World Intellectual Property Organization's diplomatic conference in Geneva last December. The treaties state that it's an international crime to reproduce or distribute digital literature and artistic work without permission. World leaders also voted to apply new protection for digital music or audio.
"Both WIPO treaties were completed in record time...There was a sense of urgency about the vulnerability of U.S. copyrighted works to massive infringement by means of Internet access and about insufficient international copyright protection for sound recordings. Where is this sense of urgency now?" Hatch said on the Senate floor last month. "Nothing has changed. Our copyright industries are still threatened."
Commerce Secretary William Daley's staff helped draft House bill 2281, which would also change existing federal law by laying out civil and criminal penalties for those who "circumvent" copyright protection technologies.
"To comply with the treaties, the United States must make it unlawful to defeat technological protections used by copyright owners to protect their works," Coble said when introducing the bill. "Further, the United States must make it unlawful to deliberately alter or delete information provided by a copyright owner which identifies a work, its owner, and its permissible use."
Some observers opposed the treaty provision during the WIPO negotiations because it also makes it illegal to import, manufacture, or distribute technology that defeats copyright-protection devices. Critics say the "broad" condition could incriminate engineers who test such products by cracking them or make PCs illegal because they could be used on many levels to break copyright-protecting devices.
But the software and recording industries contend that copyright-cracking technologies must be banned to stop criminals who intentionally break devices to steal copyrighted material.
The Software Publishers Association endorsed the new legislation's goals, but is against another bill introduced by Coble earlier this month that would exempt online services and ISPs from liability for unknowingly transmitting copyright violations over their networks.
"The SPA supports the objectives of HR 2281 and while further analysis must be done, believes that the Clinton administration and Rep. Coble have achieved a workable balance," president of SPA Ken Wasch said in a statement. "In putting this bill before Congress, they have reached an important milestone in establishing the legal framework needed to protect electronic commerce in computer software."