House panel approves digital copyright bill

Entertainment biz vocally backing ratification efforts

WASHINGTON — After several hours of debate, a House subcommittee approved a bill Thursday that takes the United States another step closer to ratification of two international agreements aimed at making the digital world safer for copyrighted material.

Both treaties are enthusiastically supported by the content-rich entertainment industry, which is increasingly anxious about the ease with which someone with a $1,000 computer can make perfect audio and video copies and instantaneously distribute the material via the Internet anywhere in the world. The goal of the legislation is to bring U.S. law into compliance with two World Intellectual Property Organization treaties.

Unlike the Judiciary Committee, which has already approved the bill, the House Telecommunications Subcommittee took a much harder look at the language. Several members offered amendments that ran against the grain of the entertainment industry interests.

Although several of the amendments were approved, entertainment industry lobbyists were sti1l optimistic Thursday — especially since they will have another shot at changing the bill next week when the full Commerce Committee is expected to debate the legislation.

“We came out a little better than I thought we would,” said Recording Industry Assoc. of America president and CEO Hilary Rosen. “We still have a lot work to do in that committee. The good news is that everybody wants the bill to happen.”

“We are pleased that this legislation has moved one step closer to floor action,” said Motion Picture Assoc. of America spokesman Rich Taylor, adding, “The WIPO treaties are essential to preserving copyright in our nation and around the globe.”

The most controversial element of the bill would make it illegal to circumvent efforts by content owners to protect their material by erecting technological barriers to the creation of illegal copies. For example, a compact disc could be encoded in a way that prevents copies from being made on a conventional CD player. The consumer electronics industry opposes language in the bill as it is currently written, saying it could render illegal some devices that are now regularly used to make copies including computers and VCRs.

Rosen is particularly concerned about an amendment offered by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) that waters down language making it illegal to manufacture or sell equipment designed to circumvent technological efforts to protect copyrighted material. Rosen said she will fight the amendment next week when the full Commerce Committee begins to debate the bill.