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Suppliers support change to US piracy law

A group of technology suppliers, consumer rights groups and ISPs have banded together to support US legislation that would allow consumers to make personal copies of copyrighted digital products, including movies and music.

The Personal Technology Freedom Coalition is trying to get the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act, introduced in the US in January 2003, through Congress.

The legislation would allow consumers to break copy controls to do such things as make personal copies of compact discs or movies. Supporters of the bill say it is necessary to protect consumers' fair-use rights to make personal copies, which the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) curtails.

"We do not think it is illegal to buy CDs and videos and make a small number of copies for personal use," said representative Joe Barton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "Under the DMCA it has become virtually impossible to do that.

"We are not trying to make it open season for piracy or anything like that," he added.

Barton, a co-sponsor of the bill, said he plans to schedule a session for the committee to consider and amend the legislation by July, then move the bill to the House floor. Even though the bill has gone nowhere in a year and a half and faces tough opposition from some lawmakers and entertainment companies, Boucher and Barton said they believed it could move through the House this year.

Supporters of the Personal Technology Freedom Coalition ranged from the US Student Association and Consumers Union to tech giants Intel, Sun Microsystems and Gateway. Four major telecomms carriers and ISPs, including Verizon Communications and BellSouth, also joined the coalition.

The coalition launched on the same day that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) announced 482 new lawsuits against alleged song uploaders using peer-to-peer services to trade music.

Comentators said the DCMA provisions were stifling innovation. Representative John Doolittle said such technologies as Apple's iPod made no sense if consumers are not allowed to copy CDs to them.

Some companies are using the DMCA to stifle research into security holes, added Ed Black, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association. "It is an attempt to use intellectual property to block competition," he alleged.

Boucher's bill does not spell out how many personal copies constitute fair use or how many add up to a copyright violation. Before the DMCA was introduced courts determined when an activity was piracy and when it was fair use, and the bill would allow the court review to continue, Boucher said.

Asked how many copies are allowed under fair use, Mark Cooper, research director of the Consumer Federation of America, said the DMCA does not allow consumers to circumvent copy controls to make one copy. People who made 1,000 copies of a copyrighted work and sell it should go to jail, but those who made less than 50 copies should be safe from the threat of lawsuits or prosecution, Cooper said.

Grant Gross writes for IDG News Services


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