|Congress Prepares to Put Intellectual
Property Treaty Into Effect
The explosive development of information technology in recent years gives users of electronic information the ability to easily duplicate copyrighted material over public networks like the Internet. This evolving technology has created a need to need to reanalyze and change existing laws in order to continue to protect intellectual property into the next century. In December 1996, an international conference was convened in Geneva, Switzerland under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The purpose of the conference was to prepare treaties on issues surrounding the protection of copyrighted material in digital form, and to provide stronger international protection for performers and producers of recorded material. Congress is working on legislation which would implement the terms of the agreement in the United States. While implementation would not alter the basic substance of existing copyright law, the United States would readdress technological issues relating to circumvention of protected digital material.
Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC), Chairman of the Courts and Intellectual Property Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, introduced H.R. 2281, the "WIPO Copyright Treaties Implementation Act" in July. In September, Rep. Coble conducted a two-day hearing to discuss the issue of WIPO implementation and to hear testimony from outside witnesses. The list comprised over twenty witnesses reflecting the broad range of interested parties, including Jack Valenti of the Motion Picture Association of America, singer and songwriter Johnny Cash, M.R.C. Greenwood of the University of California at Santa Cruz, and numerous individuals from software firms, publishing companies, and trade associations.
By far, the most contentious issue brought up at the hearing was the balance between "fair use" and circumvention of copyright protection systems. Section 1201 of H.R. 2281 states that, "No person shall circumvent a technological protection measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title." In addition, the section would also prohibit the manufacture or import of technology that is designed to circumvent protection.
Section 1201 drew diametrically opposed opinions from numerous witnesses. On one side of the issue, some stated that while Section 1201 may not be perfect, it is adequately worded to allow continued development and use of technology for legitimate purposes. On the other hand, many witnesses felt that the language was too vague and would stifle innovation by not allowing reengineering, a process by which one essentially takes apart a system or product in order to analyze it and develop enhancements. In addition, members of the scientific and education communities expressed concern that Section 1201 would restrain research, as well as inhibit academic freedom and the exchange of ideas and knowledge.
Companion legislation to the treaty implementation bill was also introduced by Rep. Coble. H.R. 2180, the "On-line Copyright Liability Limitation Act," is an attempt to address concerns raised by network service providers regarding their potential liability for infringement when copyrighted material is transmitted through their services by other parties. However, consideration of H.R. 2180 in conjunction with H.R. 2281 was problematic for many of the witnesses who felt that these two topics should not be addressed together. In addition, witnesses stated that existing copyright law adequately addresses the issue of third-party liability. Nevertheless, though no service provider has been held liable for such copyright infringement to date, they continue to state that H.R. 2180 would be a step in the right direction of solidifying protection.
Members of the Courts and Intellectual Property Subcommittee are anxious
to pass legislation for domestic implementation of the WIPO treaty in order
to have a formal position on how the treaty should be handled. That way,
as other countries that have signed on begin the implementation process,
they can follow the lead of the United States.