June 8, 2006 6:10 PM PDT

House panel OKs digital licensing bill

A U.S. House of Representatives panel on Thursday approved a digital copyright bill that critics say could imperil home-use copying of music and video recording devices like TiVo.

The Section 115 Reform Act, or SIRA, introduced by Texas Republican Lamar Smith, attempts to overhaul a piece of copyright law that established a complex system of "mechanical royalties" for record companies, recording artists, songwriters and publishers in exchange for the right to reproduce and distribute their music.

There's a general consensus among politicians, the U.S. Copyright Office and the music industry that the law, first written in the era of piano music rolls, is in need of updates for a digital era. Right now, companies wishing to sell music have to negotiate separate licenses for each song's recording.

SIRA proposes establishing a "blanket licensing" system in which those entities would apply for and receive licenses through a one-stop shop. Established by the Copyright Office, that body would act as a representative for music publishing companies with the greatest share of the market.

Supporters of the bill argue that such an approach would make it easier for online music services to secure speedier approval for vast libraries of music, opening up the possibility for new market entrants, greater selection and lower prices.

"We now have the ability to give legal services the tools to compete with and hopefully drive illegal music services out of business," said California Democrat Howard Berman, a co-sponsor of the bill.

In a joint statement, the Recording Industry Association of America, the Digital Media Association and the National Music Publishers Association said they had "much to gain" from the legislation but still hadn't reached "complete agreement on all aspects" of it. An RIAA representative contacted by CNET News.com would not elaborate on those concerns.

Others, including two Democrats who reluctantly agreed to approve the bill on Thursday, have aired louder gripes about the current language. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, for its part, encouraged its visitors to call their elected representatives and make their dissatisfaction known.

In a three-page letter (click for PDF) this week to the bill's authors, a coalition of 19 consumer-oriented advocacy groups and companies--including the American Association of Law Libraries, BellSouth, the Consumer Electronics Association, Public Knowledge, RadioShack, and Sirius and XM satellite radio--claimed the proposal poses a threat to fair use.

Under copyright law, separate licenses exist for the "performance" of a song and for the reproduction or distribution of it. The consumer groups argued that the bill views digital recordings as falling into both categories, which could lead to "potentially duplicative fees" by forcing sellers to pay more than once for the same content. Those fees, some contend, would have to be passed on to consumers.

And by viewing digital music in such a light, they argued, Congress could open the door for requiring licenses for reproductions in other areas, ranging from time-shift recordings on VCRs or TiVos to analog cassettes or CDs recorded from the radio. Such a development could lead to a dangerous erosion in fair use rights, which permit consumers to copy copyrighted material without permission for noncommercial purposes.

The groups also charged that the bill would, for the first time, require licenses for every cache, buffer and other "incidental" copy of a song. "There is no basis for giving copyright owners added control because of incidental copies that have no independent economic value apart from the performance itself," the letter said.

Granted, the bill provides that such a license would be "royalty-free"--that is, of no cost to the user. But the better approach would be to exempt those incidental copies entirely from the licensing regime, said Rep. Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat who added that he'd vote for the bill Thursday with the understanding that a number of changes would be made. Before the vote, Boucher gave remarks that essentially echoed the consumer groups' concerns.

Smith said he would be open to discussing the suggested changes "as soon as next week, if possible."

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4 comments

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More bullsh*t
Our government is so clueless it is scary. Just keep catering to big business and push everything underground, sales will plumment, musicians will bolt, the riaa and mpaa will fall and the government will keep looking like fools.
Posted by tashman (42 comments )
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This is insidous nonsense
They could easily draft a bill that gives the sellers of music the access they need without touching fair use rights. In fact they could easily attach provisions that protect and enshrine fair use rights, such additions are added to bills all the time. If you want X, you accept Y along with it.
But they aren't doing that. Why? They have every intention of getting the legislation now, and then restricting consumers later, when it's too late to protest and the legal right is already established.
And I'm not for a second going to believe this is happening because the politicians are too stupid to understand the implications of what they are doing... they've very aware - it's deliberate.
Posted by skeptik (590 comments )
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If This Passes, It Could Ultimately Be the Death of the Big Publishers ...
because, other than the occasional media-company-made megastars, the artists generally get very little, if anything, from the publishers (did you know that no movie has ultimately ever made a profit for the studios, even after worldwide distribution and DVD sales/rentals? - the money eventually all disappears down various industry rat-holes as "expenses"). This change in the law could finally push the artists to create their own empire - there's certainly enough money floating around in the better-heeled artistes' Swiss bank accounts to fund it (but, then again, they're the few who have benefitted from hyper-promotional megastar status). Of course, the entire "independent" studio phenomenon is a result of the big studio mentality of making serial sequels of things that were popular the first time around (not to mention the remaking of remakes - did we really need another "Omen" movie? The original wasn't even in black-and-white). Many independent productions are financed by well-off artists, the number is growing pretty quickly (just try to get to Salt Lake City, much less Sundance, when the film festival is happening), and some of those films are doing very well - although with distribution help from some of the very same companies that wouldn't invest a penny in the productions themselves.

It doesn't take a lot of people to start a revolution, and in this case, it may be the unwitting political accomplices to the big media giants that are putting the nails in their own corporate sponsors' coffins. As George Peppard's character in "The A-Team" used to say, "I love it when a plan comes together.", even when it's not the bad guys' intended plan. Besides, any amount of money is still too much when compared to Bit-Torrent Free.

All the Best,
Joe Blow
Posted by Joe Blow (175 comments )
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Wake Up, America
Its time to wake up to the insidiousness of the actions being taken by the entertainment cartel. On the surface, they claim they are protecting their present and future assets. In fact, they are totally subverting the potential for freedom or creation and expression. Those who have followed the efforts of the RIAA, the MPAA, and other groups who claim to represent the interests of so-called intellectual property rights are all too familiar with the very real threat to individual rights, liberties, and freedoms that are being cloaked in the laws and statutes these groups are buying and paying for from our elected legislators. We must tell our Senators and Congressional representatives that if they continue to sell-out those rights and freedoms of the American people, they do so at the very real risk of losing your vote.

Each of us has only one vote, and sometimes it looks rather weak, helpless, and fragile standing by itself against big business, but each and every one of us must inform our elected officials that we intend to use that solitary little vote. We must write to them! We must tell them. We must tell our friends and relatives what is happening and then we must convince them to write also. My one little email, by itself, would indeed look fragile and quixotic; but as the number of those lonely emails continues to grow, the stronger each of our individual votes will begin to appear.

It is not sufficient to simply resolve to vote against this or that incumbent; we must let them know our intentions. Only then will they begin to take notice.

If you have the time to write a reply to an article such as this one, or if you have time to read the replies of others, you certainly have time to tell your Representative and Senators exactly what your feelings are and what you intend to do about it. Let them know that the contributions they receive from the entertainment industry will not help them with reelection if it fails to produce the necessary individual votes that eventually decide who wins and who loses.

When discussing this with friends and relatives, be sure to point out that this particular piece of legislation knowingly and willfully hands over the Office of Copyright to the entertainment cartel. If nothing else, they must object to allowing an arm of the government to become the servant of private big business.

(Actually, it has already happened  the Congress of the United States has already become the servant of those groups. If and when big business wants a law which deprives and restricts the rights and freedoms of American citizens, it merely has its corporate attorneys draft the legislation, then has Congress pass it. And please believe me, this is no exaggeration nor any stretching or contortion of the truth  ask any member of Congress whether or not they have the time to read the legislation they vote on! They will tell you they are too busy fund-raising!)

If you treasure your unique citizenship in the United States of America, you must now become an active advocate for the preservation of the Bill of Rights and of the principles upon which this great nation was founded. You cannot afford to be apathetic. That person who becomes aware of what is actually happening in the halls of Congress, but would rather watch television than take the short time it takes to write an email to his or her congressional representatives, will soon find that those freedoms which we claim to treasure have been abrogated by the very people who swear solemn oaths to preserve, protect, and defend the document which established them.
Posted by Pluqueric (14 comments )
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