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Panel Urged to OK Web Music Treaties

September 05, 1997|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — Music publishers played an illegal, pirated version of Madonna's hit song "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" for Congress on Thursday--but it sounded as good as the real thing.

Citing the proliferation of such perfect digital copies on the Internet, the publishers asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to help them stave off a new breed of cyber-pirates by approving two international copyright treaties.

The treaties, passed in December by the World Intellectual Property Organization, seek to update copyright laws across the globe in the age of computers and computer networks.

"The Internet holds great promise for electronic commerce for music and other forms of entertainment," Cary Sherman, general counsel for the Recording Industry Assn. of America, told the committee.

"Unfortunately, the rapid growth of the Internet also means that the peril faced by our industry is of the same magnitude," Sherman said. "Our sound recordings are easily copied to a computer hard drive."

But the treaties sought by music publishers and other producers of creative material could curb legitimate "fair use" of copyright material, according to some libraries and educational groups.

Professor Robert Oakley of Georgetown University Law School said libraries and others favor legislation to clarify and protect fair use in the digital age. Oakley said such groups back a bill by Sen. John Ashcroft, (R-Mo.), to clarify language in the treaties and make sure fair-use rights are maintained.

Telephone companies and online service providers like America Online Inc. told the committee they feared the treaties and implementation of legislation proposed by the Clinton administration would leave them legally liable for copyright infringements by any of their millions of customers.

They backed legislation to protect them from liability unless the owner of a copyright work notified them of an infringement.

"Congress must make clear that service providers which act simply as a conduit for transmitting information are immune for third-party infringement," AOL's general counsel George Vradenburg testified.

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