US House passes Internet copyright bill

The US House of Representatives has approved a bill that extends copyright protection to material on the Internet. The bill, based on treaties drafted by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in December of 1996, covers written material and sound recordings. Its intent is to protect copyright holders from illegal electronic distribution of intellectual property. But civil liberties groups have vowed to fight the measures, arguing that the bills are vague and violate constitutional free speech rights.

The US House of Representatives has approved by a voice vote a bill that extends copyright protection to material on the Internet.

The bill, based on treaties drafted by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in December of 1996, covers written material and sound recordings. Its intent is to protect copyright holders, including software developers, recording artists and publishers, from illegal electronic distribution of intellectual property.

The US Senate in May approved its version of the bill. The House and Senate bills will be sent to a conference committee to work out the differences between the two versions. The Senate is in recess until Sept. 1 and the House is on break from Aug. 10 to Sept. 8, so the conference committee will not meet until both return.

Variously called the WIPO Copyright Treaties Implementation Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, the proposed law has been contentious. Critics argue that the bill goes beyond terms of the WIPO treaties, making it illegal for computer software developers to access parts of existing software on the Internet to create interoperable products.

Advocates, however, contend that legislation extending existing US copyright law to include the Internet is needed to protect intellectual property available online. The Creative Incentive Coalition, composed of various publishers, IT and entertainment trade associations, and Microsoft have been among the bill's supporters.

"While digital dissemination of copies will benefit owners and consumers, it will unfortunately also facilitate pirates who aim to destroy the value of American intellectual property," said Representative Howard Coble, the North Carolina Republican who introduced the House measure, in a written statement.

As part of its flurry of work before the recess begins, the House today also debated a spending bill that includes two amendments that regulate access to Internet content that is deemed "offensive" to minors. The appropriations bill was approved late last month by the Senate.

The appropriations bill sets the budgets for the US Commerce, State and Justice departments. The bill has been heavily amended, including the two Internet-related bills. One -- the so-called Communications Decency Act II -- would regulate commercial distribution of Internet content that is considered "offensive." The other Internet bill would require public schools and libraries that receive federal funds for Internet connections to install filtering software that blocks access to "inappropriate" material.

Civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have vowed to fight the measures, arguing that the bills are vague and violate constitutional free speech rights.

The US House, in Washington, D.C., can be reached at http://www.house.gov/, which includes updates on House proceedings. The U.S. Senate, in Washington, D.C., can be reached at http://www.senate.gov/.

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