Both of these reforms–limitation on fair use, and protection of webcasting–would assist the entertainment industry in its continuing legal fights to protect intellectual property. In other legislation, the industry has gone after independent webcasters like AudioGalaxy. This law instituted a royalty scheme for webcasts of copyrighted material. If the Coble-Berman bill passes, the only legal webcasts will be those played from pay-per-webcast or membership sites like Duet and MusicNet, which are made possible by the Recording Industry Association of America.
And if these measures don’t finish off independent online music dissemination, another bill also proposed last month by Rep. Berman–who received over $140,000 in contributions from the entertainment industry toward the 2002 race for the California district that includes Hollywood–might provide the coup de grace.
In the memorandum accompanying the draft of the bill regarding fair use and webcasting, Berman and Coble state that “the development of the draft does not constitute an endorsement of its contents.” It is fairly unusual for congressmen to draft bills they do not support, but spokeswoman Gene Smith has been quoted as saying that they wrote the bill at the request of House Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI).
Regardless of Berman, Coble, and Sensenbrenner’s individual goals (which remain unclear), the bill won’t get beyond the draft stage in this session, to the dismay of the entertainment industry. But watch for its resurrection when Congress reconvenes. This is the kind of legislation that slips into law without anyone noticing, only to wreak havoc later when it is exploited by an enterprising corporate lawyer.
If you don’t have the inclination to read the bill itself, this summary article will help you stay informed.