July 16, 1998 4:45 PM PDT

Movie exec pushes copyright bill

CHICAGO--In a rousing speech at summer Internet World, Motion Picture Association of America chief executive Jack Valenti blasted Internet copyright violators and campaigned for an intellectual property bill under consideration by the House of Representatives.

Valenti gave his brief but spirited remarks en route to the Capitol, where he is scheduled to meet with House members marking up the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The act, a version of which overwhelmingly passed the Senate in May, would implement treaties signed at the World Intellectual Property Organization's 1996 summit, thereby expanding copyright protections for music, film, text, and software on the Internet. Specifically, it would outlaw technologies capable of cracking copyright-protection devices.

"Congress is the site of a struggle to implement the WIPO treaty, whose aim it is to protect intellectual property from those who want to use what belongs to others for their own ends," Valenti said.

Intellectual property accounts for almost 4 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product and is growing at twice the rate of the national economy, according to Valenti. The yearly cost to industry of intellectual property theft is $18 billion to $20 billion, he said.

"These assets are too valuable and too rare to be treated casually," Valenti said.

He criticized hardware makers for opposing the bill. Those firms want to preserve a loophole that would enable them to create so-called black boxes that would be able to override copying restrictions, according to the MPAA chief executive. Valenti called the black box a "stealing machine" and the loophole "big enough to drive through with a 16-wheeler."

"If Congress confers legal status on a machine whose purpose is burglary, we are in deep trouble," Valenti said.

The other significant opposition to the act comes from universities and libraries that want a "pass key" for "fair use" of copyrighted materials on the Net. Fair use is a status--well-established in current copyright law--that allows the copying of limited amounts of intellectual property for research and educational use. Valenti acknowledged the legitimacy of the fair use doctrine, but said the "pass key" research and educational groups wanted would undermine the act.

Valenti and other backers of the copyright act before the House acknowledge solutions to the piracy problem are to be found in technology that prevents illegal copying and distribution.

But technology is equally able to undo those solutions. As a result, the bill would criminalize the creation or sale of technology that could be used to break protective shields.

Following Valenti's hurried keynote, four panelists took to the stage to criticize the copyright act. Their primary complaint was that the language of the act was overly broad, and that and as a result, it would criminalize common practices and technologies that have no criminal intent, and in some cases are not even used voluntarily. One example would be the caching of a Web page with more than five images on it, an act that would put not only browser users but browser makers at risk for prosecution.

"There's no reason for laws to be so sweeping," said panel member Jason Catlett, founder of Junkbusters. Many observers "have very little faith in the ability of Washington to get this kind of legislation right," said Catlett.

Another point the panel agreed on was that intellectual property standards accepted on the Internet are anathema to the corporate culture of Hollywood and old media in general. Once such standard is the growing freeware movement that gives rise to free--through still copyrighted--products such as the Apache Web server.

 

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