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Copyright Bill Under Fair-Use Fire

A number of computer companies, equipment manufacturers, librarians and fair-use activists sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman and ranking member -- Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), respectively -- Friday to complain about a new Copyright Office draft of a bill targeting copyright infringement.

According to the groups, the bill now creates too broad a target that would unfairly make liable a large class of hardware and software suppliers and services "regardless of their knowledge, intent, or relationship to the infringer."

They say that target group would be threated because it would have no way to minimize their risk of liability, meaning they would have to litigate virtually any infringement suit filed against it.

The groups also want fair use copy rights established in the 1984 Betamax case codified, arguing that those rights are currently under "constant attack."

The bill has gone through several iterations since it was introduced and the letter ask for a public hearing to discuss and reconcile the differing elements.

Studios, which have pushed for more legal protections as technology has made high-quality copying and distributing easier, are looking for as much protection from illegal digital distribution of their intellectual property as possible. On the other side, Fair use proponents want to protect their legal ability to copy and distribute that content for personal use, including on peer to peer networks. Their allies are some of the companies who make the equipment to do that.

The Senate Judiciary Committee could consider the new draft as early as Tuesday, Sept. 21, according to Public Knowledge, which was one of the signatories to the letter. Others included the Consumer Electronics Association, American Library Association, Intel, Sun Microsystems, BellSouth, Google, and Yahoo.