Proposed Copyright Law
Reaches Beyond Scope Of Intent
By James Donahue
In an effort to protect
copyright protected music and video material from open theft on the World Wide Web, the U. S. Copyright Office has proposed
a change in the law that would go too far.
The recommendation to
the Senate Judiciary Committee would hold technology companies liable if they make products for profit that encourage people
to infringe copyrights.
Naturally, a law like
that would generate a heated reaction from technology companies, and it has drawn quick criticism from consumer groups as
well. And for good reason.
Bob Schwartz, counsel
for home recording rights groups, noted that the new law ”would not require that a defendant in a copyright suit have
any knowledge of infringing conduct, any relationship with a particular infringer or any intent to commit a violation of the
The proposed change in
the law would make technologies that help people digitally transmit copyright materials to the public liable if the manufacturer
relies on these activities to make money or attract people to its service.
While it is a clear attempt
to stop the open theft of music and films, the law appears to have such a broad sweep it could affect nearly every aspect
of internet service. For example, many websites, like this one, link to one another for interesting stories that we feel our
readers would enjoy, or need to read.
The linking to each other’s
pages for stories and pictures is so common that a search for a particular article will often turn up the same exact manuscript
on numerous sites, all on the same day.
Thanks to the technologies
provided by big corporations like Microsoft and Apple, linking on the web is as easy as literally pointing and clicking.
The fast-paced stream
of writing and distributing information on the web is so intense, that hundreds if not thousands of new stories,
pictures and pages of data are posted daily from all over the world. It would be literally impossible for anyone to apply
for and secure a copyright on any single article before it is posted on hundreds of websites simultaneously. The U.S.
copyright office moves too slowly, and is too costly for most webmasters to worry about. Also the problem is so
global in scope, a law in any one country will do nothing to fix it.
Thus the use of each
other’s copy is relatively unstopable. It appears especially safe for those sites that do not advertise and seek
no financial profit from using the material.
But just assume that
someone really takes the time to have a copyright secured for an article (which I have done on some of my work), and the article
appears on somebody else’s website, under another name. Suppose that I choose to bring that person to court to
protect my copyright. How will the new law apply?
It seems that Microsoft
might be found liable, since they provided the means for the webmaster of that offending site to steal my story.
This, of course, is a
distorted version of what is really going on in the electronic recording industry. That artists are utilizing the Internet
to sell their music and films for profit is the issue. And there are a lot of companies manufacturing and selling devices
designed to copy those CDs and video films over the Internet.
“This draft is
scary,” said Will Rodger, public policy director for the Computer & Communications Industry Association. He said
that if the proposal is made law, the wording would make it possible for a manufacturer to be liable for an individual’s
A problem is that many
companies that make products don’t always know how it might be misused until it happens.
Another problem is that
most of the theft goes on outside of the United States.
There is a big industry in music and movie copying and sales in overseas places like China. How will a severe US
copyright law stop that kind of activity?
The U.S. Patent Office
needs to rethink the way it operates. If it expects to maintain an effective control on written, printed and recorded artistic
material, there needs to be a speedier and less costly way of making patent services available to a market that relies on the
new high-speed electronic media.
Punishing the people
that manufacture the equipment that we use is not the way to go.