has been advancing copyright legislation of late to add protections for the digital age.
The House Judiciary Committee
today passed Rep. Howard Coble's (R-North Carolina) and Sen. Orrin Hatch's (R-Utah) legislation to
ratify international treaties that extend intellectual property rights to
In addition, the committee merged the
bill with Coble's Online Copyright
Infringement Liability Limitation Act. The provision limits Net access
providers' accountability for copyright infringements made over their
networks, unless they have knowledge of such activity or gain economically
The bill now goes for a full House vote.
Today's action comes on the heels of another move to strengthen copyrights. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee also unanimously approved the Collections of Information Antipiracy Act, which would make it illegal to extract information from a database and make it available elsewhere, if such an act would "harm" the database company's current or potential market. Violators could be fined up to $250,000 or imprisoned for a maximum of five years.
that the database bill will give current and future database owners indefinite control
over the information they harness.
Despite the committee's action today, some high-tech companies and civil
liberties groups oppose the Coble-Hatch bill because it would place criminal status on acts such as reverse engineering or product development.
The legislation makes it illegal to create or sell any device that could be
used to crack technologies that safeguard copyrighted material. Foes of the
bill say engineers and high-tech
companies regularly crack such technologies during research processes,
much in the same way auto makers test-crash cars. The bill makes no
"They are viewing circumvention as a crime regardless of if there were any
copyrights violated," said Lowell Sachs, the government affairs
representative for Sun Microsystems, who also sits on the American
Committee for Interoperable Systems (ACIS).
"There are a host of reasons why people may want to circumvent a copyright
protection device during engineering or development," he added. "The net
effect of the bill will be to stifle tech innovation, hinder the
development and growth of the Net, and hinder competition in the computer
The 1,200-member Software Publishers
Association argues that the disputed clause would only outlaw
technologies "that have no meaningful purpose other than such
circumvention." The real threat to the industry, the SPA said, is the
illegal copying and online distribution of products.
Although the committee approved some limitations on service provider liability today, negotiations are still under way to create more safe harbors for ISPs in return for their support of the Coble-Hatch bill.
Last night, lawmakers worked with the ISP industry to create four safe
harbors that are expected to be embraced by the Coble-Hatch bill or to be
introduced in the form of new legislation.
For the most part, ISPs would escape liability under the proposal when they
are simply passing data over the Net automatically; caching temporary
copies of online material; when a customer stores an infringing copy on the
service provider's system; or if the provider links to a site that
"We have negotiated in the expectation that ISPs will support [the
Coble-Hatch bill] and its
Senate companion, S.1121,"
said Mark Traphagen, SPA vice president and counsel for
intellectual property and trade policy.
"These negotiations represent the software industry's good-faith effort to
accommodate the concerns of the telecommunications industry," he added.