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Caching caught in copyright debate

The European Commission meets this week to consider copyright restrictions that an Internet advocacy group warns could imperil Web caching in Europe.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
3 min read
The European Commission will meet this week to consider copyright restrictions that an Internet advocacy group warns could imperil the use of Web caching in Europe.

The European Commission will consider amendments to the European Parliament's "Directive on the harmonization of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the Information Society." One of those amendments carves out exceptions to the directive's copyright restrictions, and the Internet Society (ISOC) warned that Internet caching may not fall safely within those boundaries.

"The Internet Society urges the European Parliament to reconsider its proposal to outlaw caching," ISOC said in a statement yesterday.

ISOC chief executive Don Heath is drafting a letter to the commission today. In yesterday's statement, Heath stressed the importance of caching and urged the commission to protect it under the law.

"The Internet does not need laws that slow its performance, clog its arteries, and reduce value received," Heath said in the statement.

Caching is a method of storing copies of Internet content closer to or on client computers in order to minimize repetitious long distance traffic on the Internet. The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) lets content providers keep certain data from being cached in order to keep freshly updated content coming to users. But since caching means copying, it is increasingly falling under the shadow of copyright law.

The amendment drawing scrutiny from ISOC concerns Article 2 of the directive, which protects copyrights online. The amendment excludes some content from protection provided that copyright holders authorize its use. The amendment reads as follows:

"Transient and incidental acts of reproduction referred to in Article 2 which are an integral and essential part of a technological process for the sole purpose of enabling use to be made of a work or other subject matter shall be exempted from the right set out in Article 2. Such uses must be authorized by the right holders or permitted by law and must have no economic significance for the right holders."

ISOC is concerned that the phrase "integral and essential" might not be found to apply to caching. The requirement to "authorize" caching may prove impractical, ISOC warned. And the phrase "no economic significance" worries ISOC, which points out that "everything copyrighted can be said to have economic significance."

ISOC said the commission would meet Friday and may vote to strike the second of these two phrases from the amendment.

A similar proposal was considered in 1996 at the World Intellectual Property Organization conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

Delegates debated whether it should be illegal to cache temporary electronic copies of copyrighted materials without an owner's explicit permission. The provision in a treaty caused last-minute gridlock and was eventually dropped.

Under the European system of government, the commission originally proposed laws that the Council of the European Union would decide after consultation with the democratically elected Parliament. But Parliament has assumed a more active legislative role and now drafts and adopts laws, sharing decision-making powers with the council in many areas.

Based in the United States, ISOC has members in more than 100 countries and advocates in the areas of Internet standards, education, and government policy.

News.com's Courtney Macavinta contributed to this report.