Industry, regulators debate online copyrights

The hearing, which is part of the final stage of implementing the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), was ordered when the DMCA was enacted. The DMCA requires that a report, studying the effects of the DMCA on some copyright issues, E-commerce and associated technology, be submitted to the US Congress on February 28, 2001.

Testimony came from a wide range of interested parties, including Time Warner, the Home Recording Rights Coalition, Linux software vendor Red Hat, streaming media company RealNetworks, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Digital Future Coalition. The various witnesses touched on an even wider range of issues, from Webcasting fees to the doctrine of first sale (the legal doctrine that allows consumers to resell products that they have purchased, such as CDs, without violating copyright law) to open-source software and digital rights management.

Witnesses argued along expected lines in draft copies of their testimonies posted on the Copyright Office's Web site.

RealNetworks argued that Webcasters ought not to be charged for copyrighted music and video held in temporary files --called buffer files -- on their servers. Doing so "would have an immediate [and] potentially devastating impact on the development of the streaming media business," said Alex Alben, the vice president of government affairs at RealNetworks. "Current licensing practices already impose substantial costs and administrative burdens upon these companies, and it would be untenable and unfair to require them to shoulder additional costs with respect to the buffer copies," he added.

Not surprisingly, representatives of the both the RIAA and the MPAA, industry groups representing music and movie companies, respectively, said that the DMCA was working fine and amendments need not be made.

Fritz Attaway, a lawyer for the MPAA, in his written testimony, said that the hearing could lead to only "one clear and simple conclusion. That is, the DMCA and the development of electronic commerce have had no effect on the operation of the First Sale Doctrine, and the relationship between existing and emergent technology and the operation of the first sale doctrine is in harmony."

Wednesday's hearing comes almost a month after a ruling that set two exemptions to the section of the DMCA that governs hacking and reverse engineering: the first allowing for the hacking of so-called "censorware" Internet filtering programs so as to discover the list of blocked sites, the second for works restricted by obsolete or malfunctioning protections.

The US Copyright Office can be found online at http://www.loc.gov/copyright. The testimony given at Wednesday's hearing is located at http://www.loc.gov/copyright/reports/studies/dmca/testimony/.

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