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Copyright-Related Bills That Actually Exist

In my previous post, I mentioned GovTrack, a nifty, free watchdog service which provides a more user-friendly interface to THOMAS (the Library of Congress's archive of events in current and previous sessions of the United States Congress). With the tools there, you can follow individual Representatives or Senators (they're your representatives, make 'em represent you!), individual bills (so if there's one particular bill whose progress you want to watch, you can track it easily), or issues you care about (by subject or committee. You can do all your tracking through the site, or use RSS feeds of things or people you're interested in, or even sign up to get alerts via email.

Unsurprisingly, one of the most-watched subject areas is copyright. For those of you who are interested in what copyright-policy-related issues actually are up before Congress right now, here's a quick, biased-toward-things-I-find-interesting rundown:
  • S. 1642, Higher Education Amendments of 2007. Section 477 would require colleges and universities to inform students that "unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials, including unauthorized peer-to-peer file-sharing, may subject the students to civil and criminal liabilities," as well as requiring schools to provide students with a description of their policies on file-sharing and of penalties for violating federal copyright law. Passed the Senate in July 2007, doesn't seem to be scheduled in the House yet.
  • H. Res. 314, Supporting the goals of World Intellectual Property Day, and for other purposes. This is just a resolution, not a bill; it doesn't propose any changes to federal law. It basically just says "yay intellectual property, intellectual property is great, the House of Representatives thinks World Intellectual Property Day is a good idea." Since it's just a resolution, not actually a bill, it won't go on to the Senate if the House passes it, and the President won't have to decide whether to sign it. But, hey, it's on the calendar.
  • H.R. 3746, the College Access and Opportunity Act of 2007. This is very similar to S. 1642, above; in this bill, section 484 talks about the same kind of information-providing requirements. This kind of thing happens a lot in Congress -- the House and Senate will almost simultaneously produce very similar bills, they'll get voted on separately, and eventually one of them will vote to approve the other house's bill. Introduced in October last year, not scheduled for debate yet.
  • H. Res. 414, Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that foreign governments should work diligently to legalize all computer software used by such foreign governments, and for other purposes. Another resolution which won't directly affect U.S. law, but which may influence how we interact with other countries. It exhorts foreign governments to follow WTO agreements, the Berne Convention, and the WIPO Copyright Treaty with regard to how they (as in, the governments themselves, not necessarily citizens of their countries) use copyrighted software. Introduced May 2007, not scheduled for debate yet.
  • S. 1353, the Internet Radio Equality Act of 2007. This one is pretty interesting: it's basically the legislative branch attempting to overturn some actions the executive branch took in early 2007 with regard to royalties that web radio stations must pay to content owners. It also proposes that these changes be written into law. Should be of interest to anyone who's involved in producing web radio, whether you're doing it commercially or whether you're just one guy with a copy of Shoutcast. (For instance: did you know that under current law, to be considered a "noncommercial webcaster", you actually have to apply to the IRS for a tax exemption? This stuff is pretty thorny.) H.R. 2060 is quite similar to this one; both have been introduced to their respective houses, neither has been scheduled for debate yet.
  • S. 760, the Four Corners Television Act of 2007. Would make it less of a hassle for cable and satellite providers to rebroadcast TV transmissions originally broadcast in state capitals to more remote areas of the state. S. 124, the Satellite and Cable Access Act of 2007, is a competing Senate bill. (That happens sometimes.) S. 258 is also quite similar, but more general, and worth looking at for the interesting issues it brings up -- it allows satellite carriers to rebroadcast content to far-away subscribers even if they've done so illegally before. Introduced last March, not scheduled yet.
  • H.R. 1689, the Curb Illegal Downloading on College Campuses Act of 2007. If passed, this bill would let the Department of Education give colleges and universities money that they could use to make it harder for students to use campus networks to illegally download copyrighted material. This is a really short bill, and doesn't go into any kind of detail about what sorts of policies or programs schools can or can't implement. The concept of fair use is never mentioned anywhere in the bill. In practice, I wouldn't be at all surprised if schools ended up getting grants from the Department of Education and spending them on RIAA propaganda materials. I'll be watching this one pretty closely. OTOH, it went to the Committee on Education and Labor last March and hasn't been amended or scheduled. This will be a short legislative year thanks to the election; I bet this one dies in committee.
  • H.R. 1524, the Artist-Museum Partnership Act. S. 548 is basically the same thing. Would allow artists, writers, musicians and scholars to donate their works to certain types of nonprofit organisations (e.g., museums) and claim it as a deduction on their taxes. This one's been hanging out in the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Committee on Finance since early last year.
  • S. 256, the Perform Act of 2007. Also deals with royalties for playing music on the radio, though this one would apply to ordinary FM and AM radio as well as web radio. There's a weird little clause in here, in section 2(c), which I find rather troubling: it requires broadcasters to use technology (read: DRM, though I don't quite get how) to "prevent the making of copies or phonorecords embodying the transmission in whole or in part, except for reasonable recording." What's "reasonable recording", you ask? Well, they define it later. A "reasonable recording" is private and noncommercial, for starters -- ok, that's fine, that's fair use. But the bill doesn't want you, in the privacy of your own home, to be able to (for instance) use software that automatically records only the tracks from a web radio station that match a list of artists you like. (Apparently it's okay for me to listen to "Goth Hits of the '80s" and manually start recording every time a Cure track comes on, but if I write a program to listen to the stream for me and start recording when the word "Cure" appears in the artist field, that would be illegal under this bill.) But it gets worse: a "reasonable recording" is also one that's encumbered with DRM preventing me from redistributing it to anyone, or even to my iPod. (If I have a "secure in-home network", like a set-top box, that's okay, but not my iPod. WTF.)

    What I find most offensive about this part of the bill is that it doesn't take into account the desires of individual artists. For instance: I listen to Jonathan Coulton's podcast. iTunes downloads it for me, automatically, every time Jonathan posts a new podcast. Jonathan releases his music under Creative Commons, meaning that he's quite happy for me to go around giving copies of his music to whoever I want. Now, maybe podcasts don't count as "transmissions" under this interpretation of the law, but what if I find an "all Creative Commons works, all the time" web radio station, and decide I want to round out my Jonny C collection by automatically capturing every Coulton track the station plays? Illegal, if this bill passes.

    I don't like this bill because it casts a "chilling effect" on innovation. Why prohibit me from capturing just the tracks I want (if the creators are okay with that), and redistributing them if the creators are okay with that? It's an attempt to bring the hammer down on copyright infringement in a way that also prohibits non-infringing behaviour, and that's not cool in my book.
  • Moving on, S. 522, the Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Act. This one would establish a task force to crack down on the international trade and domestic importing of counterfeit goods, e.g. medicines, DVDs, mechanical parts, purses, &c. Sent to the Committee on the Judiciary last February, hasn't left yet.
  • H.R. 1201, the Freedom and Innovation Revitalizing U.S. Entrepreneurship Act of 2007. This one would fix a lot of broken stuff in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. If passed, it would be legal to circumvent DRM, break encryption, or otherwise defeat copyright protection for the purpose of doing something non-infringing with the content involved -- for instance, a teacher could use DeCSS to decrypt a couple of DVDs in order to use segments of them in a video for the classroom, or you could remove DRM on music you've bought in order to make it playable on an MP3 player which doesn't support that kind of DRM. It's also on the pile for the Committee on the Judiciary. (They're busy guys.)
  • Finally, S. 1957, the Design Piracy Prohibition Act. Same thing as H.R. 2033. It would extend copyright protection to fashion design, and establishes a bunch of definitions and policies related to how that would work.

(I skipped a couple of bills which don't appear to have anything to do with copyright policy, e.g., appropriations bills affecting the Copyright Office.)

Anyway, the summaries and text are all right there for you to read. These are actual bills before Congress right now, so if there are any you particularly support or dislike, then let your elected representatives know! It's a much better use of your time than railing about things Congress isn't even looking at.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 15th, 2008 02:23 pm (UTC)
You scare me in that good way.
Apr. 17th, 2008 02:49 am (UTC)
The organization in the frontlines of this fight has made a point to answer every point in this blog:


We’ve seen “Six Misconceptions About Orphan Works” circulating on the Internet. It’s a well-reasoned piece, but has one problem. The author cites current copyright law to “debunk” concerns about an amendment that would change the law she cites.

How would the proposed amendment change the law? We’ll get to that and other questions in a minute. But first, let’s answer the broader charge that news of an Orphan Works bill is just “an internet myth.”

click for more
Apr. 17th, 2008 10:48 pm (UTC)
Kinda sad isn't it?
Most people will probably gloss over these bills but make an incendiary remark on how you will lose your rights as an artist here they come.

Nevermind the fact that quite a few artists are probably breaking other copyright laws but as long as it doesn't affect how they may "lose their rights" no one says anything.
Apr. 19th, 2008 05:07 am (UTC)
Obvious Question...
What would Illustrators' Partnership stand to gain from making up a non-existent issue? At the very least, Mark Simon has done something unprecedented: he shook artists out of apathy. Even with the Patriot Act imposed upon everyone most working artists just shrugged and went back to their desks. It took this to get them to their senses that inaction against measures is very much like consensual rape: you asked for it. You can call Mark cuckoo all you want but even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Apr. 19th, 2008 06:56 pm (UTC)
Mark Simon Answers His Critics
Following the unprecedented response to his last column, Mark Simon offers supporting evidence regarding the threat to artists' rights.

Apr. 20th, 2008 04:33 am (UTC)
Copyright issues

I personally take the rights of other people's work very serious, and when I want to post something, I ask them via email, but at the same time I'm asking myself, where's the point if so many people on the Internet "borrow" practically from everywhere without even bothering to post a copyright remark? As I see it, the point seems to be more and more, not to infringe copyright, but to get away with it. This is law vs reality.

Claus (http://grafomatic01.twoday.net/)
Apr. 20th, 2008 04:42 am (UTC)
P. S.
> S. 1353, the Internet Radio Equality Act of 2007

This act imho makes it very clear that "copyright" can be used by lobbyists to put others (read: Internet radio stations) out of business. I followed the discussion on this act last year, before it came to effect in July, and I find it incredibly hypocritical to charge that much royalties from Internet radio stations (which are now struggling to survive), when at the same time "normal" radio stations don't have to pay them.

Apr. 23rd, 2008 10:19 pm (UTC)
Re: P. S.
Note that S. 1353 is still in committee and hasn't yet been scheduled for debate; it might not make it out before the end of this (artificially short thanks to the election) legislative year.
Apr. 23rd, 2008 05:17 am (UTC)

Today the House and Senate sent us draft copies of the new Orphan Works Act of 2008. They haven’t officially released it yet, but we’ve been told the Senate will do so this week. A quick analysis confirms our worst fears and our early warnings. If these proposals are enacted into law, all the work you have ever done or will do could be orphaned and exposed to commercial infringement from the moment you create it.

You’ve probably already heard Mark Simon’s webcast interview with Brad Holland. If not, please listen to it at:
http://www.sellyourtvconceptnow.com/orphan.html. <http://www.sellyourtvconceptnow.com/orphan.html>

Then forget the spin you’ve heard from backers of this bill. This radical proposal, now pending before Congress, could cost you your past and future copyrights.

The Illustrators’ Partnership is currently working with our attorney - in concert with the other 12 groups in the American Society of Illustrators Partnership to have our voices – and yours - heard in Congress. We’ll keep you posted regarding how you can do your part.

Please forward this information to every creative person and group you know. Mr. Holland and Mr. Simon have given their permission for this audio file to be copied and transferred and replayed.

For additional information about Orphan Works developments, go to the IPA Orphan Works Resource Page for Artists

If you received our mail as a forwarded message, and wish to be added to our mailing list, email us at: illustratorspartnership@cnymail.com
Place "Add Name" in the subject line, and provide your name and the email address you want used in the message area.
May. 28th, 2008 07:14 pm (UTC)
Meredith, I wish you were in the real world....Orpans are not works of art, they are someones childr
See below title
Six Misconceptions About Orphaned Works

You do disservices to all that want important information on this future law. You hold yourself out to be the authority on the issues, yet you then say I am not an attorney, so don’t count on anything I say.

I think you are the FUD whom is seriously confused.

Before you discount me read the letter from an attorney below…whom for the record states the real issues.

Next this bill if enacted into law most likely will be unconstitutional and will be challenged by a copyright owner who has the financial resources to see it to end.

To all that read this, let me tell you I come from an experience that is real. I am in year 3 of a copyright litigation that, my legal bill now exceeds $500,000.00 USD. US copyright laws currently lack “MORAL RIGHTS”…. before any “ORPAN WORKS LAW” should be considered the copyright laws need to address at least “Mandatory Attribution” bc I don’t think that moral rights can be enforced by law.

My case involves thousands of images that were marked with my “CMI” embedded into each and every image, with metadata….client removed said data, and then licensed my images to hundreds of third parties who then licensed my images to thousands of additional third parties under their “Affiliate Marketing Programs”

So if you are an artist and are concerned with your artwork then you better be concerned with this proposed legislation, and the impacts it will have on your ability to sustain yourself.

As an aside, although I was the copyright owner, I was the defendant in this lawsuit. I was forced to incur $500,000.00 USD in legal fees to protect my copyrights. As a result I now have thousands of images being used by thousands of people whom are all using my images to make money….they have not paid one red cent for these assets…I can not pursue each and every one of them….and those that I do can claim as a defense that the work is either in public domain or an orphaned work, or that it was an innocent infringement.

How many of you readers have the kind of USD it take to protect your copyrights, even under the laws as they now stand? If the orphan works law passes as now proposed it will cost more to protect your rights both in real dollars and in your personal time, and emotions.

Propet USA v. Lloyd Shugart WD WA. Federal Court

Lloyd Shugart
Aug. 9th, 2008 09:17 pm (UTC)
Just wanted to say
It's amazing
Sep. 25th, 2008 02:24 am (UTC)
thanks much
i am gonna show this to my friend, bro
Jan. 5th, 2011 01:42 pm (UTC)
I understand their concern but some of these bills are a bit exaggerated and almost impossible to apply. How could they ever stop students from sharing music labels with their friends? Even if the bill is approved, it would be extremely difficult to stop them. Don't get me wrong, i am one of those guys who buys most of his music from emi encore, but i must admit not everything in my play list was obtained that way.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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