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Congressman challenges copyright act

A US congressman with an eye on technology issues plans to introduce legislation designed to reinstate consumers' "fair use" rights regarding copyright material, rights that were eclipsed when a controversial copyright bill passed Congress in 1998.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the US was designed to protect against new threats to copyright holders' rights - namely digital reproduction technology and the Internet - that facilitate the unauthorised copying and distributing of creative works such as songs, video clips and even films.

Critics of the DMCA say the act went too far. Section 1201 of the measure makes it a criminal offence to circumvent copyright protection technology for any purpose. This is the portion of the bill that the congressman, Rick Boucher, plans to take on.

Boucher's measure would modify a portion of Section 1201 of the act so that consumers can skirt copyright protection technology in order to exercise their fair use rights, Boucher said in a speech last week.

Fair use is the right given to consumers of intellectual property to use and copy works in a reasonable manner for their own convenience. For example, the purchaser of a music CD is allowed to carry out "space shifting" - making a copy of the CD for personal use, such as creating a compilations.

But when the DMCA was passed in 1998, consumers' fair use rights were jeopardised, Boucher said.

"Congress, in passing the DMCA, granted unprecedented rights to copyright owners, which, unless changed, will cede to the intellectual property owner total control over the work," he said.

Under the act, consumers attempting to go around copyright protection technology to exercise their fair use rights would be committing a criminal offence, Boucher explained

What made matters worse, he added, is the introduction of new copy-protected CDs, which many recording companies are beginning to use.

These CDs can prevent users from making copies, therefore trampling consumers' space shifting rights.

"That fair use application is threatened by what we now see as the intended introduction into the US of copy-protected CDs so that people could not use the music they purchased in order to create a CD that has the tracks that they want," the congressman said. "And, if a person seeks to do that, he is guilty of a crime."

Boucher's proposed legislation would restrict section 1201 so that circumventing copyright protection technology is only a criminal offence when done with the intent of violating the work's copyright, he added.

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