Congressman makes appeal to P-to-P advocates

U.S. Congressman Rick Boucher addressed attendees at the O'Reilly Peer-to-Peer and Web Services conference here Wednesday, asking for their support in his legislative efforts to make the authorized distribution of music over the Internet a reality.

Attendees, as evidenced by their prolonged applause and questions asking how they could help the cause, consisted largely of technologists and entrepreneurs and appeared to back the Democrat from Virginia's initiatives. That's not surprising, considering that Boucher is pushing for legislation to expand the rights of Internet music consumers and developers of online distribution services.

Specifically, Boucher asked for support of the Music Online Competition Act (MOCA), which he introduced in August. The act's goal is to facilitate online music distribution in a legal manner by removing a number of statutory hurdles.

"I would like to have the help of people in this room in this effort," Boucher said, adding that it's been difficult to pique the interest of other Congress members in the intricacies of copyright legislation. "It's not easy ... when the conversation turns to copyright law, eyes glaze over pretty fast. But they respond to constituents." If the audience would write to their Congress members asking them to support MOCA "that will help us more than all my preaching to my colleagues," he added.

The MOCA would modify the current copyright law that says only one copy of a work -- such as a song or a movie -- can exist on a Web broadcaster's server at one time. It would remove that restriction so multiple versions of a work can exist simultaneously to accommodate different download speeds and file formats.

This measure would also let both brick-and-mortar and online outlets provide samples of music without having to license them. Currently, physical music stores are allowed to play 30- or 60-second samples free of charge; Boucher's proposal would expand that freedom to Web-based music sellers and let chain stores keep the samples on a central server.

MOCA would also remove current liabilities involved in storing buffers and backups of works under copyright. Buffered copies made during Web browsing or Web broadcasting, as well as archival backups on individual PCs for redundancy purposes, would not be considered infringements.

It would also require royalty payments to be made directly to the artists, instead of being funneled through the record labels. In addition, it calls for nondiscriminatory licensing of music to affiliated and nonaffiliated online distribution companies. This provision would require record labels to license their works to independent Web distributors as well as to those sites in which they have an ownership stake.

Congress is expected to pass some version of MOCA next year, Boucher said.

The congressman expressed concern over the recent release of copy-protected music CDs, which prevent consumers from copying songs to create a compilation CD for their own personal use. Called space shifting, this practice is allowed under the fair use provisions of current copyright law.

"It's not going to be very long before you can go to your local college book store and [buy a t-shirt that] has the code to crack this copy protection written across it," he predicted.

However, if consumers attempt to circumvent the copy-protection mechanisms on these CDs, they would be guilty of a crime under a section of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA), which makes it a criminal offense to disable copyright protections, regardless of motive. Boucher is pushing for an amendment to the DCMA that would make such action a criminal offense only if copyright infringement is the goal of circumventing the protective measures.

Such an amendment won't surface any time soon, however.

"I'm not ready to introduce this bill yet, I need to do some coalition building," he said, adding that the proposal would be made next year or the year after. Yet by producing copy-protected CDs -- which Boucher believes will enrage CD consumers -- the recording industry is building a groundswell of support for modification of the law, he said. "The recording industry may be giving us the tools we need" to affect change, Boucher said.

When asked how long he thought it would take the recording industry to understand the benefits of online music distribution, Boucher answered that peer-to-peer file-sharing systems -- which have become a wildly popular way to share music over the Internet -- will push music companies to action.

"The recording industry will see the only defense it's got is to compete" by offering similar services, the congressman said.

Boucher wasn't the only one at the conference to ask for attendee action. In a speech given Tuesday, Hilary Rosen, CEO of the influential industry group Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), said that her members welcome the advent of online music distribution -- provided it's done in an authorized manner.

"The question isn't whether peer-to-peer or any other particular technology is good or bad. The question is whether they are going to be used, whether they'll respect what artists create, just like we in the recording business respect what the business sponsors and software developers in this audience create," she said. "And that's the challenge I want to place before you today."

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