More Attacks On Our Fair Use Rights

Yet another bill is coming before Congress to clip your Fair Use rights. ZDNet News published an article yesterday detailing the contents of a draft bill, which they say will be appearing before Congress in the next few weeks.

Reps. Howard Coble of North Carolina and Howard Berman of California, who authored the draft, say their proposed changes to copyright law follow suggestions made last August by the Copyright Office.

"The Copyright Office recommended that Congress amend the Copyright Act," the two politicians wrote in a five-page letter sent last month to members of the subcommittee that oversees intellectual property. Coble is the Republican chairman of the panel, and Berman, who announced plans last month for an unrelated bill assailing peer-to-peer networks, is the senior Democrat.

The first part of their proposal, which would limit backup copies, has already drawn objections from academics and nonprofit groups that have reviewed it.

Under current copyright law, Americans who record a TV program or radio segment generally may "sell or otherwise dispose of" that analog recording or digital file as they wish.

The proposed bill would end that exemption, handing copyright owners substantial new control over the distribution of their works by curtailing copying rights granted to consumers under a doctrine known as "fair use."

"If you were to take todayis episode of iE.R.i and tape it and give it to your mother, it would be copyright infringement under this bill," said Jessica Litman, a professor at Wayne State University who specializes in copyright law.

It gets worse, according to R. Polk Wagner, a teacher of intellectual property law at the University of Pennsylvania:

"Letis say I obtained a copyrighted work under fair use, say a photo of Mickey Mouse," Wagner said. "If I wanted to discuss, criticize or share that work, I need to interact with other people. Yet section one of the draft bill quite clearly says I have no rights to distribute the work, which would seem to rather severely limit my use. In the digital era, interaction takes place by transferring and copying files."

The article goes on to point out the billis impact on Web radio broadcasters, including a much-needed clarification on the matter of a broadcaster making ibufferi copies for the purposes of broadcasting.

The article includes a particularly interesting tidbit: the Congressmen drafting the bill made it clear that their participation does not iconstitute an endorsement of its contents,i and claims that Mr Berman helped only at the request of the House Judiciary Committee chairman. You can read the article in full at the ZDNet Web site.