Content Cop or TiVo Killer?

Fair-use fans took aim Wednesday at a new bill that they argue threatens home copying rights. Its proponents, most notably major studios, counter that it simply makes it easier to pursue bad actors who induce copyright infringement.

The bill, which would amend the copyright act, was introduced Wednesday night by a bipartisan group of Senators including Majority Leader Bill Frist and Minority Leader Tom Daschle. It would make it a criminal offense to "intentionally aid, abet, induce, or procure" copyright infringement, according to fair use group Public Knowledge.

In addition, it would use the "reasonable person" standard to identify "acts from which a reasonable person would find intent to induce infringement." That widens the net from the "intent" standard usually applying to vicarious infringement, says Public Knowledge.

"Public Knowledge is concerned that the bill is overbroad because it "regards almost any action that leads to infringement to be a potential offense even if the person who engages in the act never intended to cause infringement," said Public Knowledge President Gigi B. Sohn. 

Protecting content continues to be one of the key issues in the conversion to digital, with studios working hard to protect their intellectual property in an age of easy copying.

The Motion Picture Association of American was quick to praise the effort. ““The bill is a simple but important piece of legislation. It is grounded in the commonsense notion that people who "actively induce" others to break copyright laws are themselves violating copyright laws, and should face legal consequences. 

The copyright industries - which make movies, TV programs, home video, books, music and computer software - comprise an awesome engine of growth that nourishes the national economy....The Act will further protect this vital economic contributor by clarifying for the courts that those who actively encourage others to break the laws designed to protect copyrights should not escape liability for their actions.”
Public Knowledge and others counter that too tight a rein threatens home copying rights.
"If the act had been in effect two years ago, we'd have no Tivo," says Public Knowledge spokesman Art Brodsky.

The bill is seen as a counter-volley to one proposed in the house by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and others, and backed by Public Knowledge, that would expand fair use protections.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.