White House urges support of copyright pacts

WASHINGTON — The Clinton administration is expected this week to kick off its drive to win congressional approval for international treaties designed to protect copyright holders on the Internet. The agreements are strongly supported by the music and film industries.

The White House will officially forward to Congress two agreements reached in December at the World Intellectual Property Organization conference in Geneva. The WIPO treaties require countries to strengthen their copyright laws and extend those expanded intellectual property rights to cyberspace. More than 160 countries participated in the conference.

In addition, House Intellectual Property Subcommittee chairman Howard Coble (R-N.C.) is expected to introduce a bill to bring U.S. copyright regulations into compliance with the international treaty. The bill would explicitly outlaw efforts to circumvent any technological protections on copyrighted material. Such protections might include an electronic code embedded in a CD designed to prevent its duplication.

With opportunities for piracy and commerce expanding exponentially on the Internet, the Recording Industry Assn. of America is lobbying hard for the treaties and the accompanying legislation. RIAA chairman Hilary Rosen says international copyright protection regarding the digital environment is a critical issue for the music industry. “Because of the way technology has progressed, we are clearly the most vulnerable,” Rosen said.

While it is still relatively difficult to transmit video over the Internet, advanced cable modems can download a CD in three minutes, Rosen claimed.

Rosen is also going to urge Coble and other members of Congress to resist efforts to expand the companion legislation to include provisions exempting online service companies from responsibility for digital piracy conducted on their networks. “We are going to support the legislation,” Rosen said, adding, “It is important that the focus is kept narrow.”

Earlier this month, Coble introduced a bill that would indemnify online service companies from any act of piracy conducted on their networks. Rosen, like other representatives of copyright-rich industries, opposes the bill.

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