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Issa Plans Bill to Clarify Digital Copying Rights

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Issa, who has emerged as a leader on Internet rights issues, is seeking legislation to give a clearer definition to consumers of what constitutes “fair use.”

The California Republican contends that the U.S. Copyright Office was out of step last month with most people’s understanding of “fair use” when it questioned whether such activity is legal.

“We think we can write at least some clarifying language that would instruct the Copyright Office to more accurately define what is, in fact, fair use,” Issa said in an interview. “People who make copies on their iPod for jogging are not the problem.”

The opinion from the Copyright Office came in response to a request by consumer rights group Public Knowledge, which asked that federal law be clarified to make clear that consumers can make personal copies of movies, music and software files as long as it is not for commercial use.

But after being rejected by the Copyright Office, the advocacy group is turning its attention to Congress to pursue legislation. Public Knowledge could have an important ally in Issa, who, in addition to chairing the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also sits on the Judiciary Committee and its Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet Subcommittee.

Issa emerged as a leader on Internet rights issues earlier this year when he opposed the Stop Online Piracy Act introduced by Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas. Technology companies and Internet activists said the legislation (HR 3261), aimed at prosecuting foreign websites that violate U.S. copyright laws, was written too broadly and could hamper online speech.

Now Issa plans to work with incoming Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., who currently heads the intellectual property subpanel, to make digital rights a priority in the new Congress.

“This opinion puts us in a position that makes it essential to be acted on in the next Congress,” Issa said. He expects the Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing on copyright and piracy issues early next year.

He does not have a measure ready to introduce but has reviewed legislative proposals and said he would like to present draft language to Goodlatte if the chairman takes up the issue.

Public Knowledge has drafted a bill that would not only allow consumers to make digital copies but let them do so even if the media is digitally locked. Most movie DVDs come with “digital rights management” encryption to prevent piracy. Michael Weinberg, a Public Knowledge vice president, said the lock can also prevent legitimate use by law-abiding consumers.

“One of the concerns is that digital rights management can be used by rights holders to obtain more control over a work than copyright law allows them,” Weinberg said.

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