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Revised Piracy Laws Face Setbacks

Bowing to criticism from consumer-electronics manufacturers and Internet-freedom groups, the sponsors of new cable-theft legislation in Tennessee have withdrawn their bill from consideration this year.

"We just ran out of time," said Stacey Briggs, executive director of the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association.

The Senate and House sponsors of the bill remain committed to getting the measure passed, said Briggs, but other legislators had doubts due to "misinformation" on the bill's impact.

Rather than try to push the bill through, the sponsors, including Rep. Robert Briley (D-Nashville), decided May 23 to set aside the proposal for study until next session.

"We'll instruct them all along the way and address any legitimate concerns," Briggs said. Cable lobbyists believe major concerns have been addressed in an amended version, she said.

The anti-theft bill is one of nearly a dozen submitted in states across the country, backed by the industry's Broadband Internet Security Task Force and the Motion Picture Association of America.

They're designed to extend anti-theft protections to products such as Internet delivery, and to strengthen penalty provisions, so large-scale theft-device manufacturers will be assessed fines commensurate with the volume of their operations.

The Tennessee bill would make signal thieves liable for penalties of up to $10,000 per day for using unauthorized equipment to steal signals or Internet access. Fines on equipment providers will be assessed on a per-device basis, rather than at the current capped amount.

An early version was amended to defuse criticism that some legitimate uses of equipment would be made illegal. Language now clarifies that the law is meant to ban intentional thievery, supporters say.

Critics, including the Consumer Electronics Association, have kept up the heat, calling the bills overly broad.

Tennessee's action was the second blow to the bill's backers in a week. Citing a "lack of clarity," Colorado Gov. Bill Owens vetoed a similar measure on May 21.

Owens urged the legislature to reconsider the issue next session, more carefully, and craft a bill that will not "paint a broad brush stroke when a tight line is needed," his veto letter of May 21 said.

The Colorado governor wrote that neither proponents nor critics accurately described the ramifications of the law, adding that he believed the legislation would lead to lawsuits.

The CEA lauded the actions of both states.

"We are encouraged to now see state lawmakers recognizing the bills' shortcomings and heeding the warnings issued by the technology community, retailers and consumer groups," it said in a statement.

In previous years, the anti-theft update was approved in Pennsylvania, Illinois and other states. It was passed this year in Arkansas and Florida.