A dispute over the potential liability of computer companies that make products used to steal online material threatens to kill a House bill designed to strengthen copyright protection on the Internet.
The impasse over the controversial legislation, now before the House Judiciary subcommittee on courts and intellectual property, was created by a proposal to make companies liable if their hardware or software products are used to steal films and other copyrighted material online.
Time is running out to pass the bill in this congressional session. "There just isn't a little bit more to give," said subcommittee chairman Carlos Moorhead (R-California) referring to the negotiations in an interview with the Bloomberg news service. "If we don't move forward within a week or two, this whole thing is dead. It's too late in the session."
The proposal to hold computer companies responsible for Internet piracy is supported by such entertainment heavyweights as Time Warner and Turner Broadcasting, as well as a number of other companies that create online content and want to protect their copyrights. The companies have also lobbied to make telephone carriers and Internet access providers liable for such infringement.
But those proposals have met with vociferous opposition from technology and telecommunications companies, including such diverse firms as AT&T and Sun Microsystems, which contend that the bill is both drastic and impractical.
Under the proposals, according to Bloomberg, a hardware company could be held responsible if one of its computers is used in the theft of online material. In addition, a decryption software vendor could be prosecuted if its product is used for such piracy.
The House subcommittee had been scheduled to vote on the bill yesterday but is now expected to be taken up next week at the earliest.