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Fair Use Groups Want To Put Brakes On Leahy Bill

A bill that would give the Justice Department more power to shut down Web sites that illegally stream or sell TV shows and movies may have bipartisan backing, but it has divided the studio and fair use lobbies into their traditional camps.

The Consumer Electronics Association, Public Knowledge, and other fair use groups in a years-long tug of war over copyright protections vs. protections for pubic access to content, want to put the brakes on the bill until they can weigh in officially.

The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act was introduced last week by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

The Motion Picture Association of America likes the bill, but has said it needs to be tougher.

The CEA, Public Knowledge and others fear it could already have enough teeth to take a bite out of their respective constituencies, which include academics and equipment manufacturers.

They sent a letter to Leahy and ranking Judiciary Committee member Jeff Sessions (Ala.) saying they didn't think there was enough time remaining in the legislative session to vet the numerous "global entanglements and serious questions" it raises. They said there should be a hearing and testimony from affected parties before the bill went any farther. That would push it to the lame duck session after the November elections.

They say they are concerned about the potential for blacklisting Web sites to undermine fair use rights like the home taping right established in Sony v. Universal or the culpable intent threshold established in MGM v. Grokster.

But to bring it home as the legislators go for midterm elections, the groups suggested that if the FCC gave the Justice Department the power to blacklist Web sites with "little process and limited judicial review," those blacklists might extend to the Web sites of political candidates and campaigns.

Also signing on to the letter were the American Association of Law Libraries, the American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries, the Association of Research Libraries, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Home Recording Rights Coalition, and NetCoalition.