Congress must pass legislation this year that would effectively drive online digital music swapping companies out of business, a key U.S. senator said today in one of the strongest statements yet in support of the recording industry's campaign to prop up sagging sales in the face of rampant Internet music piracy.
"The architects of file-sharing piracy make millions of dollars while attempting to avoid any personal risk of the severe and criminal penalties for copyright infringement," said Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I believe we can and must find a solution in this session of Congress."
Hatch made his remarks at a committee hearing on the "Induce Act," a bill that would allow recording companies and movie studios to sue peer-to-peer networks like Kazaa for enticing people who use their software to illegally share and download copyrighted music and video for free.
Hatch has powerful support for the bill, which he co-authored with Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), the committee's top Democrat. The legislation also enjoys support from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), both of whom are co-sponsors. Marybeth Peters, head of the U.S. Copyright Office, announced her support for the bill at the hearing.
But opposition to the legislation is mounting. The bill would allow copyright owners to sue people or companies that deliberately incite people into violating copyright law, a move that technology companies, software engineers and civil liberties advocates say could open the door for lawsuits against popular music players like the iPod and even the omnipresent DVD player and VCR.
"I cannot find one technology company that supports this bill as written," Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association, testified at today's hearing. "This legislation gives them [copyright owners] a deadly new tool to stop any new technology they don't like."
Recording devices like the VCR are protected by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1984 decision in the "Betamax" case, in which the court ruled that Sony did not violate copyright law with its Beta videocassette recorders just because its users could make bootleg recordings of movies and television programs.
A federal judge in California ruled in 2003 that the ruling applied to Grokster, a West Indies-based music file-sharing service, because peer-to-peer networks could be used for legal and illegal purposes. Frustrated in its efforts to put file-sharing companies out of business, the record industry turned its attention toward individual song swappers, suing thousands of people accused of trading copyrighted material on file-sharing networks.
Hatch and Leahy said the bill would not target legitimate recording equipment and that it would single out only companies and people who survive by deliberately promoting copyright infringement.
Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) Chairman Mitch Bainwol testified that the INDUCE Act could help end the campaign against individual Internet users, some of whom are children as young as 12. "The real villains are not the kids. The villains are these profiteers who are gaming a gap in the in American law."
But Kevin McGuiness, executive director of NetCoalition, a group that represents Google, Yahoo and a handful of other Internet firms, said the bill puts too much power in the hands of copyright owners. Calling the Internet a "big copying machine," McGuiness said lawyers could use the measure in a way that would "jeopardize the essential architecture of the Internet."
Hatch urged supporters and opponents of the bill to help him develop a compromise that protects legitimate manufacturers while allowing copyright owners to protect their rights.
"If you help us, we just might get it right, but if you don't we're going to do it [anyway]," Hatch said.