WASHINGTON — Motion Picture Assn. of America topper Jack Valenti and 321 Studios chief Robert Moore crossed swords at a hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday over a bill that would allow consumers to make backup copies of movies on DVD.
In fact, the issue of a consumer’s right to make copies of DVDs and CDs for personal use has some lawmakers questionning the sweeping copyright protections afforded in the landmark Digital Millenium Copyright Act Congress enacted in 1998.
“I think we went way overboard in that legislation and I think it needs to be corrected,” Rep. John Doolittle (R-Glendale.) said during testimony before the subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection. “This bill represents the first tangible opportunity to redress these wrongs.”
Reps. Doolittle and Rick Boucher (R-Va.) sponsored The Digital Media Consumers’ Rights Act last year as a consumer protection measure that would label CDs with information about what electronic devices they can and cannot be played on because of encryption protections.
In the interim, the lawmakers added a pair of “fair use amendments,” which would carve out exemptions to the DMCA’s prohibitions against cracking CD and DVD encryption devices.
For months, no action was taken on legislation while former House Energy and Commerce Committee Billy Tauzin (R-La.) controlled the panel’s business.
But Tauzin, who was considered a media industry ally, was forced to give up his gavel late last year after ethical questions arose when he announced his retirement and first entertained offers to succeed Valenti at the Motion Picture Assn. of America and then to become the Pharmaceutical Research Assn.’s top lobbyist.
Now that Tauzin is out, the panel’s new chairman, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), has thrown his full support behind the bill and plans to move it swiftly through the committee.
“We have a long history of copyright law that permits ‘fair use’ of copyrighted material, which allows me to make a copy of music to play in my car or make compilation CDs of my favorite songs,” Barton said.
Even though the legislation is now limited to the House, with no similar bills on the Senate side, the entertainment industry is deeply concerned about any attempt to reopen the DMCA and diminish its copyright protections.
During several heated exchanges, Valenti claimed the bill would “devastate” the DVD market because anyone could use the new encryption circumvention devices that 321 Studios sell to “rent, rip and return” DVDs from video rental stores.
In February a federal appeals court banned sales of 321 Studios’ DVD copying software, although similar software continues to be distributed over the Internet for free.
Moore defended his product as a simple and convenient way for “ordinary and honest” consumers such as artists and educators, librarians and movie buffs to make backup copies of the movies they own.
“These customers just want to keep their expensive collections safe so they can enjoy them for years to come,” Moore insisted.
Indeed, Allan Swift, a Washington lobbyist and former Democratic congressman from Washington state who served on the Commerce panel, testified that as a music buff he routinely copies compilations of songs for friends he has made from his collection of 3,000 CDs.
“I never made a straight duplicate of a record for anyone,” Swift said. “I have never charged a person a penny. I am, like so many other American consumers, a profit center for these businesses. It’s about time they treated us with a little respect.”
Moore testified on a separate and later panel than Valenti, who dashed out to receive the key to the city from Washington D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams as a lifetime recognition award.
Still, Valenti predicted Moore’s argument and held up a pirated copy of “Runaway Jury” during his testimony. The DVD, he said, was bought on the streets of Washington’s Chinatown.
Valenti said the DVD contained a message from 321 Studios informing the viewer that they use the new copy only for personal use and requesting that the user “respect the rights of copyright holders.”
(Paul Sweeting contributed to this report.)