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Rep. Berman May Not Revive Internet Piracy Bill

February 21, 2003|Jon Healey | Times Staff Writer

Rep. Howard L. Berman said he may abandon his controversial proposal to help Hollywood battle Internet piracy, in part because of complaints from an unexpected source: Hollywood.

Berman (D-Van Nuys) introduced a bill in July to give movie studios, record companies and other copyright holders limited immunity from lawsuits if they used technology to block piracy on file-sharing networks such as Kazaa or Gnutella. The immunity would not have applied to tactics that damaged users' computers or legitimate file-sharing activities.

The measure, which died when Congress adjourned last year, drew heavy flak from consumer advocates who said it would encourage copyright owners to become network-snarling vigilantes. Nevertheless, Berman was widely expected to try again this year with a revised version of the bill.

This week, however, Berman said he may not revive the measure. For one thing, copyright holders may not need extra protection to combat file-sharing piracy, he said. And though Berman wasn't deterred by complaints from consumer advocates, the concerns voiced by Hollywood studios -- among the biggest beneficiaries of the bill, given their active anti-piracy efforts online -- suggested that Berman was climbing out on a limb by himself.

In particular, Hollywood's enthusiasm for the bill was dimmed by Berman's insistence on imposing new liabilities on copyright holders that go too far in attacking pirates. "And if they're not for it," Berman asked, "where am I going?"

His comments came in an interview at a conference on copyrights and consumer rights at Intel Corp. in Santa Clara, Calif. "It still may be worth doing," Berman said of the proposal, "but realistically, a bill like this isn't going to zip through Congress."

Rich Taylor, a spokesman for the Motion Picture Assn. of America, said "the essence of the legislation makes all the sense in the world." However, some MPAA members were concerned about the new liabilities, and some doubted the need for the bill, he said.

"There were no self-help actions being taken in violation of state or federal laws," Taylor said.

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