Hatch kills bid for copyright lite on Web law

WASHINGTON — Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) rejected a request Thursday by telcos and online companies to hold intellectual property treaties hostage until Hollywood agrees to water down copyright law concerning the Internet.

At a Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday, Hatch said he hoped to ratify international copyright treaties, supported by the movie and recording industries, before Congress adjourns later this year, possibly as early as November. “I do think we need to ratify the (World Intellectual Property Organization) treaty,” Hatch said.

But telephone companies and online service companies want Hatch to hold up ratification of the treaties until copyright-rich industries agree to modify current copyright law. “Congress should hold the industries’ feet to the fire,” said United States Telephone Assn. prexy Roy Neel.

The Internet service providers want to change current law so they cannot be held liable for pirates who clandestinely use their online networks to distribute unauthorized material.

Companies such as America Online cannot possibly police all of the data that is transmitted over its network, America Online general counsel George Vradenberg said. “The innocent or powerless transmitter should not be held liable for infringing acts of others,” Vradenberg testified.

Neel urged the Senate to support a telco proposal known as “notice and take down.” Under the proposal, online service companies would be obligated to remove any Website that a content provider could prove infringed copyrights. Neel also noted that online service providers may run afoul of the First Amendment if they are asked to police their networks for copyright violations.

While America Online’s Vradenberg claimed that the content providers were afraid of the Internet and were trying to stymie its growth, the Recording Industry Assn. of America said it looked forward to using the Internet to develop new revenue streams. “(The growth of the Internet) means a greatly expanded market for our music,” RIAA general counsel Cary Sherman said. Like other reps of content-rich industries, Sherman argued that the Internet will not reach its full potential unless it is made as safe as possible for copyright holders.

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