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February 28, 2007

FAIR USE Bill Introduced inCongress

Congressmen Rick Boucher and John Doolittle introduced the bipartisan Freedom and Innovation Revitalizing U.S. Entrepreneurship Act, or FAIR USE Act.  A statement on Rep. Boucher's site says the bill (H.R. 1201) will allow exemptions to Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act when they do not pose a potential threat to the vendor's business model.  This section prohibits anti-circumvention of copy protection systems except when allowed by the Librarian of Congress on the recommendation of the Registrar of Copyrights.  These are based on triennial reviews.  So far the rules are relaxed in situations where old protection systems are obsolete and there is a need to recover the data, and in other very limited circumstances, such as when a music company, let's say Sony, for example, puts DRM on a CD that compromises security on a PC.  Yes, Sony's rootkit fiasco was so egregious that it warranted a limited exception to the DMCA.  The full list is here.  The exemptions would last three years, but the Boucher-Doolittle bill would write these exemptions into law.

The RIAA immediately railed against the bill.  According to a statement quoted in an article on the PC World web site, the organization said "The difference between hacking done for non-infringing purposes and hacking done to steal is impossible to determine and enforce."  This position, of course, implies that fair use rights should ALWAYS fail when confronted with DRM, and that any attempt to crack copy protection is ALWAYS illegal.  This must be because you can never be sure.  Perhaps I'm reading a more extreme view into this statement than the RIAA intends, but I don't think so. 

Boucher's own statement notes that fair use rights are under attack as never before and wants this legislation to restore some balance between consumer rights and media vendors.  Similar bills were introduced in the last two congresses without much headway.  The electoral power change may see this one get a little further along, but don't be surprised if business lobbying dollars don't win the day again for the vendors.  In the meantime, piracy runs rampant on the web, and even the vaunted protection systems on high definition DVDs are broken even before one comes out on top.  MP3s and other music files are available from a variety of sources and DRM systems are broken in spite of regular updates to fix the holes.  The RIAA may win the battle on this piece of legislation but lose the war of the market.  This may change if the organization members offered customer convenience for their product.  However, that word does not appear much in their vocabulary

February 28, 2007 | Permalink

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