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Hopping on omnibus

Studios press lame duck Senate on antipiracy

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Studio lobbyists are hoping that a lame duck can still quack.

With a gaggle of antipiracy bills left hanging when lawmakers flew the coop for Election Day, the Motion Picture Assn. and its allies want to roll them into a single omnibus package and whisk it through the lame-duck Senate convening this week.

The omnibus package — a collection of eight formerly separate bills — passed the House with little debate late last month, but Congress adjourned before the full Senate could take it up.

In a letter sent to all 100 members of the upper chamber last week, the MPAA, RIAA, NATO and more than a dozen other industry groups urged senators to act on the package before the 108th Congress comes to an end.

Despite the measure’s broad support, however, getting it passed is a long shot. Typically, lame-duck Congresses stick to must-pass appropriations bills and leave pending matters to be reintroduced in the next legislature.

This year’s lame-duck also has the giant intelligence overhaul bill to think about.

“I don’t deal in realism, I deal in optimism,” MPAA attorney and veep David Green said. “I have to think that there’s been so much work done by so many members on so many provisions in this bill that it would be a real shame if some goodly part of it didn’t get into law before we’d have to start all over again in January.”

The key piece of the eight-bill package for Hollywood is the Piracy Deterrence in Education Act, which would make it a criminal violation to knowingly “offer for distribution” 1,000 or more copyrighted files with “reckless disregard” for whether their distribution would cause infringement.

Currently criminal copyright sanctions require “willful” infringement, a tougher standard for prosecutors to meet.

Other measures in the bill would ban the use of camcorders in movie theaters and would allow the U.S. Justice Dept. to file civil copyright suits against alleged pirates.

Opponents of one or more pieces of the bill are girding for battle, however.

At a news conference Friday, Consumer Electronics Assn. prexy Gary Shapiro said the lower standard for criminal liability would turn many ordinary music listeners into criminals.

“There have to be millions of kids out there with 1,000 songs on their computer,” Shapiro said. “All of a sudden there’s this whole new type of criminal activity out there.”

CEA also objected to a studio-backed twist to the Family Movie Act that would prevent the use of filtering technology such as Clear Play to skip over commercials.

“Commercial-skipping is a foundation of a lot of our technology, including the VCR,” Shapiro said.

In an effort at compromise, Shapiro said CEA would support a bill to ban camcording in theaters if it were introduced on its own.

The omnibus package also is drawing fire from some political groups. In a series of print ads set to run this week in several conservative pubs, the American Conservative Union rips the measure for allowing the Justice Dept. to file civil copyright suits.

“The (bill) would turn the Dept. of Justice into Hollywood’s private civil law firm,” the ads complain. “And who pays the legal bills for Hollywood? The American taxpayer.”

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