WASHINGTON — The House on Tuesday voted to align U.S. law with two international copyright treaties — a major step toward easing the fears of studios and diskeries about doing business on the Internet.
Showbizzers hope the action will lead to speedy ratification of the World Intellectual Property Organization treaties, which they say must be implemented by hundreds of countries if the Internet is going to be a safe place for movie studios and recording companies to do business.
The industries are worried about making their products available on the Internet, where it is relatively easy to distribute near-perfect digital copies around the globe. The hope is that the WIPO treaties will create an international intellectual property standard that will make the Internet safe for copyrighted material.
The Senate already approved, via a 99-0 vote, a slightly different version of the bill. Now the two ver-sions need to be reconciled in conference.
MPAA president Jack Valenti said he hopes the bill will receive final approval from Congress in mid-October when it will be sent to the White House, where President Clinton is expected to sign it in to law.
Although the House must approve changes to U.S. law in order to bring it into compliance with the international treaties, only the Senate has the authority to approve the treaties themselves.
The House voice vote was welcomed by Valenti and Recording Industry Assn. of America topper Hilary Rosen, who feared the bill would die if Congress left for summer vacation without acting on the measure.
“We are grateful to Republicans and Democrats who joined together to stop the thievery of American intellectual property by passing the House version of WIPO legislation,” said Valenti.
More than 130 countries are waiting to see how the WIPO treaties fare in Congress before ratifying the international agreements. “Today’s vote represents a crucial step forward in demonstrating our country’s leadership position in expediting the successful worldwide implementation of these treaties that are so vital to U.S. economic interests,” Rosen said.
Another major supporter of the WIPO treaties is the software industry, which is equally concerned about piracy on the Internet. The hope, said Rep. Rick White (R-Wash.), is that through the WIPO treaties, “the rest of the world will adopt our view of intellectual property.”
Although copyright-intensive industries were happy the House voted on the WIPO implementation legislation, they don’t like the bill as much as the Senate’s version.
Valenti said he is particularly concerned about a provision of the House bill that states that consumer electronics devices do not have to be compatible with all encryption technologies. But Valenti, Rosen and other copyright-sensitive industry lobbyists were willing to make concessions in order to ensure the House acted on the bill before its summer recess.
Gain in Senate?
The film and recording industries hope to reverse their losses when the Senate meets with the House to reconcile the two versions of the legislation.
“The bill had to get out of the House in order to get in to conference,” Valenti said. “There are things in this bill that I do not consort with.”