Reps Boucher, Cannon to introduce new Net legislation

WASHINGTON — Long live Napster. Or its idea, anyway.

A pair of Capitol Hill lawmakers are getting ready to introduce legislation that would loosen copyright laws to help legitimate, Internet-based music services get up and running without the threat of being shut down by the courts for infringement.

Bill apparently would target file-swapping services, such as Napster, rather than non-interactive webcasting.

“At its core, the bill updates existing copyright law to enable the distribution of music to consumers over the Internet,” stated one congressional working paper on the measure.

Legislation is being authored by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Rep. Christopher Cannon (R-Utah), and could be introduced as early as this week. If not, pols will file it when Congress returns from the August recess, which begins Friday at the close of business.

Neither Boucher nor Cannon’s office could be reached for comment late Wednesday.

Control issues

Boucher, a longtime proponent of technology, has expressed concern that the more powerful sectors of the music biz will hold up file-swapping services, such as Napster, so that they instead can control the flow.

Legislation being proposed by Cannon and Boucher apparently would address certain roadblocks in copyright law that they believe are making it difficult for Web-based music ventures to flower. Measure is expected to clarify the status of incidental and archival copying, as well as expand what is known as the in-store sampling exemption.

On a larger scale, the legislation likely will address the controversial idea of extending the mechanical compulsory license to Internet file-swapping music services. This would mean there would be one royalty pool, eliminating the need for a Web-based service to negotiate with individual artists, labels, music publishers and songwriters.

In May, the Recording Industry Assn. of America testified it might be open to such an idea, which is being pushed by Web ventures such as MP3.com. Songwriters and publishers, however, oppose such a move.

This particular legislation is unlikely to affect a royalty proceeding currently under way at the U.S. Copyright Office regarding royalty rates for straight music streaming on the Internet.

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