September 25, 1997 6:00 AM PDT

Media moguls lobby for copyright bill

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Software, communications, and entertainment firms have been shelling out the lobbying dollars as they push Congress to pass a copyright bill favorable to their industries, the Center for Responsive Politics said in an alert released this week.

During the first half of 1997, members of the Creative Incentive Coalition (CIC) spent about $7 million in Washington D.C., with $6.8 million going for lobbying expenses.

Entertainment companies topped the list of big CIC spenders. The National Cable Television Association spent $1.4 million in lobbying expenses and nearly $160,000 in poltical contributions. Time Warner was second, spending $1.5 million for lobbying and $10,000 for political contributions. Microsoft laid out $660,000 in lobbying expenses, averaging about $110,000 per month for the year's first half. That was in addition to $18,000 in political contributions.

The spike in spending coincided with CIC's efforts to persuade Congress to tack controversial "implementing legislation" onto the ratification of two international copyright treaties. The treaties, approved by the World Intellectual Property Organization in December in Geneva, Switzerland, would extend the Berne convention governing international copyright law to cover cyberspace.

Introduced in July, the WIPO implementation bill would make it illegal to defeat anticopying schemes. The bill also could hold Internet service providers partly liable for copyright infringers using their networks.

Industry groups complain their members lose anywhere from $14 to $20 billion from unauthorized copying of their products. As technologies improve for distributing these products over the Internet, companies say they fear even greater losses.

But the proposed law has encountered stiff opposition from consumer groups, researchers, consumer electronics companies, ISPs, library associations, and even some software companies, many of whom are represented by the Digital Future Coalition (DFC).

The DFC has criticized the implementation bill not only for favoring creators' interests at the expense of users but also for failing to clarify important digital copyright issues. Those include library lending rights, fair use, and the temporary reproductions necessary to carry out many legitimate computing functions.

It supports alternate legislation introduced by Senator John Ashcroft (R-Missouri). The Digital Copyright Clarification and Technology Education Act of 1997 makes it illegal for a person to circumvent anticopying technology, but it doesn't criminalize owning or making tools that could be used to defeat copyright. It also attempts to preserve fair use rights that allow libraries to continue lending digital materials, among other provisions.

Both bills have been referred to committee, but observers don't expect them to come to a vote before next year.

 

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