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Tech Firms Aim to Change Copyright Act

Deutsch said Internet providers willingly cooperate with content owners within the bounds of the law. Now, she said, "BSA wants its own shortcut, at the expense of consumer privacy and the ISPs."

Mike Godwin, legal and policy director for Public Knowledge, a digital rights advocacy group, called the BSA interest in amending the digital copyright act a "terribly bad idea."

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He said the country has long kept communications services as neutral conduits, free from obligations to monitor how people use them.

"We already don't ask the phone companies to go after people who engage in infringing performances of songs over the telephone," Godwin said.

America Online spokesman Nicholas J. Graham agreed, saying that maintaining the principle of "safe harbor" from liability for communications providers is vital.

Chizen acknowledged that striking the right balance would be a complex task, but said, "We can't ignore it any longer." The BSA also proposed changes to U.S. patent law. The technology industry is facing spiraling litigation costs over patent rights, which the BSA said threatens to stifle innovation.

One problem is that as patents have proliferated, a new kind of business has emerged in which companies seek to enforce patents solely to make money, not to use the technology. Even when the patents are not likely to stand up in court, companies often settle with the patent owners rather than go through costly legal battles.

The BSA wants administrative procedures to allow third parties to be able to challenge patents after they are granted, and to limit damage awards for willful patent infringement.

Other critics of the system argue that too many patents are granted, especially for software, and that the system is weighted in favor of large companies and against small inventors.

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