Showbiz, librarians battle over int'l treaty

WASHINGTON — The House Commerce Committee has set a Thursday morning deadline for the copyright-rich recording and movie industries to reach a settlement with the nation’s librarians, who are blocking progress on legislation needed to implement two international copyright treaties.

House Commerce Committee chairman Tom Bliley has scheduled a final review of a bill that would change U.S. copyright law to make it compatible with two World Intellectual Property Organization Treaties. The recording industry and the movie studios say they need the treaties to protect their intellectual property in the digital age.

Librarian objections

But just as the wheels appeared to be greased for House passage of the implementation language, the American Library Assn. raised several objections. The ALA’s goal, according to its Washington lobbyist Adam Eisgrau, is to protect so-called “fair use” rights on the Internet. Essentially, fair use allows researchers, students and the public to copy portions of a text or other material for non-commercial reasons.

The ALA is butting heads with the movie, recording and software industries, which want the right to create technological barriers to copying material. Without those technological protections, their copyrights will be worthless in the era of the Internet where someone with a $1,000 computer can become a worldwide distributor of unauthorized material.

Political force

So the two sides have failed to work out an agreement. Thursday’s vote in the Commerce Committee may come down to a test of political muscle. And clearly the combined resources of the movie, recording and software industries should win the battle.

But even if the ALA pulls off an upset, it will face several other tests in the full House. The Senate has already passed a bill that meets the approval of the Motion Picture Assn. of America and the Recording Industry Assn. of America. While the House must approve changes to bring it into compliance with the treaties, only the Senate has the authority to approve the treaties themselves.

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