Silicon Valley strikes back against Hollywood:
- The battle being waged in Washington over copyright in the digital age ratchets up a notch this week as new legislation is introduced aimed at clarifying consumer rights.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, plans today to introduce the “Digital Choice and Freedom Act,” Silicon Valley’s response to a host of Hollywood-backed bills tilted in favor of copyright holders.
Lofgren’s bill would ensure consumers can copy CDs, DVDs and other digital works for personal use, just as they now do with TV shows and audio tapes.
“This would not authorize someone taking their digital content and sharing it with a million of their best friends,” Lofgren said in an interview Tuesday. Instead of creating new rights for consumers, she said, her bill would ensure that “the rights they have in the analog world, they have in digital.”
Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., plans to introduce similar legislation Thursday.
Lawmakers are wrapping up their business for the year within weeks, and neither measure has any chance of making it through Congress by then. Rather, the bills are aimed at staking out the technology industry’s position in a festering dispute that could result in congressional action next year.
The bills also would amend a 1998 law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, that makes it a crime to circumvent technological protections built in to copyrighted works. Instead, consumers would be allowed to bypass the technology if the intent is to make a copy for personal use.
The legislation will vie with Hollywood-backed proposals, filed by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., and Rep. Howard L. Berman, D-Los Angeles, that would embed copy protection into PCs and an array of consumer devices, and allow the music and film industry to use aggressive anti-piracy technologies to thwart unauthorized downloading over the Internet.
“The laws that have passed in recent years have imbalanced the historical balance between owners of copyrighted works and users of copyrighted works,” Boucher said in an interview Tuesday. “The balance has been tilted dramatically in favor of owners at the expense of users.”
The film and music industries cast the debate in terms of piracy, arguing that copy protections are needed to ensure people don’t download movies and music without compensation to the copyright holders.
The tech industry counters that free-flowing downloads of movies, music and other digital works could drive demand for broadband Internet connections, which it hopes would in turn spur innovation and increase sales of new technologies.
“If this bill were to pass, it would render ineffective, worthless and useless any protection measure we would have in place to protect a $100 million movie,” Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, said of the Lofgren bill. “You could download a million movies a day, and no penalty for it.”
Caught in the middle of the debate are consumers, whose “fair use” rights are in limbo. The courts have long upheld consumers’ rights to make personal copies of songs, TV shows and other copyrighted works. But the move to digital raises the question of where to draw the line, when near-perfect copies can be easily shared over the Internet with large numbers of other users.
“Lofgren’s bill aims to restore what Congress thought it was doing — preserving fair use for people who have lawful rights to use stuff,” said Paula Samuelson, a law professor at University of California-Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. “The Lofgren bill offers meaningful protections for a number of ordinary activities by consumers that should be lawful under copyright law but about which the law is presently ambiguous.”
About time fair use was called something other than “piracy.”