Copyright laws get more bite for digital era

WASHINGTON — Show business in general — and the music business in particular — scored a major victory Thursday in efforts to protect copyrights on the Internet, via the approval of a new bill that would strengthen intellectual property law in the digital age.

Significantly, under terms of the new bill, online service providers such as America Online and the major phone companies have agreed to take down any Web page if they are notified that it includes unauthorized material. If the company takes down the page, it will not be held liable for the illegal material.

The Senate Judiciary Committee OK takes the U.S. a major step closer to ratification of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Treaty, which the movie and recording industries say is necessary to protect their copyrights in the Internet era. The Judiciary Committee’s action modifies U.S. law to bring it in compliance with the provisions of the international WIPO agreement.

‘Absolutely indispensable’

“The WIPO implementing language is absolutely indispensable to the increased protection for valuable copyrighted works in the future that lies ahead,” said Motion Picture Assn. of America president Jack Valenti.

To qualify as a WIPO signee, the U.S. has to change current laws to require more detailed information about the ownership of a particular work on its label. In addition, the U.S. has to enact a law that makes it illegal to circumvent technological barriers to copying copyrighted material.

But almost as soon as Congress took up the issue, a debate broke out between online service providers and the copyright-rich entertainment and software industries.

The online companies asked Congress to include in the WIPO implementation legislation a provision that would indemnify them from copyright piracy conducted over their networks. The entertainment and software industries objected to the proposal, insisting that current law is adequate.

Series of compromises

During the last two weeks a series of compromises have been worked out between the industries — including the provision that the online services would remove offending Web pages — with negotiations stretching until 2 a.m. Thursday morning.

Recording Industry Assn. of America prexy Hilary Rosen hailed the Judiciary Committee’s action, saying it laid down “the rules of the road for the Internet.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch said he would try to move the bill to the Senate floor as soon as possible.

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