May 6, 2003 5:50 PM PDT

U.S.-Singapore trade pact echoes DMCA

WASHINGTON--The Digital Millennium Copyright Act has become America's newest export.

On Tuesday, the United States and Singapore signed a trade agreement that affirms both nations' commitment to punishing people who bypass copy-protection technologies--such as those used in most DVDs, a small number of CDs and some computer software.

According to the trade agreement, any person who "circumvents without authority any effective technological measure" or distributes a hardware device or software utility that performs a circumvention function will be violating the law. The language tracks closely that of the DMCA, which the U.S. Congress enacted in 1998 over the objections of some librarians and computer scientists, who see it as a threat to legitimate research and to legitimate uses of copyrighted materials.

"We're working together to meet the threats of a new era, and we share a belief in the power of free enterprise and free trade to improve lives," President George W. Bush said during a Tuesday ceremony in Washington to mark the signing of the trade agreement. "The U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement marks a crucial step forward for both our countries. And with the approval of the Congress, this agreement will help generate well-paying jobs and opportunities for people in Singapore and in the United States." The agreement is the first between the U.S. and an Asian nation.

Asia has earned a reputation as a piracy hub, with Microsoft saying in January that police had seized more than 45,000 copies of illegal software in the region during the previous month. In March, the Motion Picture Association of America said that criminal gangs operate factories responsible for counterfeiting software and movie DVDs in Russia, Malaysia and other countries that have weak copyright laws.

A group of technology trade associations said in a statement that it "strongly supports the U.S.-Singapore FTA and urges its approval by the Congress." The ad hoc coalition includes the Business Software Alliance, whose members include Microsoft, Adobe and Apple Computer; the Electronic Industries Alliance; the Information Technology Association of America; the Semiconductor Industry Association; and the Telecommunications Industry Association.

The agreement "breaks new ground in emerging areas like e-commerce," Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said. "It also establishes high standards in intellectual property, transparency and customs. The FTA will expand opportunities for American businesses in Singapore. More importantly, the U.S.-Singapore FTA can be a model for other FTAs."

Anticircumvention regulations are just one part of the long and complex agreement. It also relaxes trade barriers and says that the sale of digital goods via the Internet will not be taxed: "A party shall not apply customs duties or other duties, fees, or charges on or in connection with the importation or exportation of digital products by electronic transmission."

Under the deal, Singapore agrees to prevent its citizens from manufacturing optical discs unless they hold "a valid license to do so." The agreement also says it will be "a criminal offense willfully to receive or further distribute an encrypted program-carrying satellite signal that has been decoded without the authorization of the lawful distributor of the signal."

Two bills that would defang the DMCA have been introduced in the U.S. Congress. The bills take different approaches, but both would rewrite section 1201 of the DMCA to allow circumvention for noninfringing purposes such as making a backup or taking a short excerpt of a video or music file. Neither has had a hearing.

 

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