May 1, 2002 1:45 PM PDT

Copyright holders praise proposed bill

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., has introduced a bill that would expand counterfeit laws to cover digital music and movies and make it illegal to replicate authentication measures on copyrighted materials.

The introduction of S.B. 2395 Tuesday was praised by copyright holders such as Microsoft, which lose millions of dollars to software pirates each year.

"The proposed legislation is essential for law enforcement to be able to effectively combat the proliferation of counterfeiting activities involving computer software, motion pictures and other audiovisual works," Jeff Raikes, a Microsoft vice president of Productivity and Business Services, said in a statement.

Specifically, the bill would expand the criminal code by making it illegal to copy authentication devices such as watermarks and holograms. It also would make it easier for copyright owners to sue alleged pirates for damages and triples fines for repeat offenders. The proposal also would give digital movies and music the same anti-counterfeiting protection under the law that software has.

"American innovation and creativity need to be protected by our government, just like our personal property, our homes and (our) streets need protection," Biden said in a statement introducing the bill. "The criminal code has not kept up with the counterfeiting operations of today's high-tech pirates, and it's time to make sure that it does."

Biden, who's the chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, held hearings in February to listen to copyright owners. Speakers including Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti and Recording Industry Association of America President Hilary Rosen pleaded with lawmakers to give them extra measures to clamp down on piracy.

Attempts to expand anti-piracy measures into the digital age at the behest of the entertainment industry have been sharply criticized by some academics and researchers. For example, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed in 1998, contains provisions making it illegal to crack copyright-protection measures or offer technology that can do so. In effect, the law criminalizes some acts of reverse engineering, even if they are for research. The measure has prompted programmers to complain of free-speech constraints. Last year, for example, Princeton professor Ed Felten backed off giving a speech on weaknesses in copyright-protection measures amid fears of a DMCA lawsuit.

Another bill, introduced in March by Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C., is tackling piracy by requiring government-mandated copy-protection technology in consumer devices. However, the bill is facing opposition from some tech executives, who don't want lawmakers deciding how their products are developed.

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