20 July 1998
Source: Hardcopy The New York Times, July 20, 1998, p. D9

Keeping Digital Data Available for Education

The House Commerce Committee has resolved a key conflict over legislation to protect intellectual property in the computer age, approving a bill that would seek to insure new digital prohibitions do not trample on the "fair use" doctrines of traditional copyright law.

The legislation, intended to carry out two international treaties on digital copyrights, had already passed the Senate and been approved by the House Judiciary Committee.

But the Commerce Committee struggled for the last month to devise a compromise between the owners of copyrights--primarily, movie and record producers and software developers--and schools and libraries, which feared that they could lose the right to make the same kind of limited-use copies of digital material as they have been able to do with printed matter.

The opposing factions struck a deal on Friday, and the Commerce Committee sent the amended version to the House floor later in the day. But before the full House can vote, lawmakers must reconcile the bill with the earlier version approved by the Judiciary Committee.

The legislation, called the WIPO Copyright Treaties Implementation Act, was introduced nearly a year ago to carry out agreements intended to protect music, movies and other intellectual property from piracy. It proposed outlawing the devices used to circumvent encryption, as well as the act of circumventing those technologies.

Publishers said that such a ban was needed to keep thieves from using any loopholes as a license to make illegal copies.

But schools and libraries feared that such restrictions would hinder their ability to make the kinds of "fair use" copies that copyright law has traditionally allowed.

A compromise amendment by Representative Scott L. Klug, Republican of Wisconsin, would defer the circumvention matter for two years while the Secretary of Commerce reviewed the problem. After two years, the anti-circumvention rule would go into effect. But the amendment would also give the Secretary the right, every two years, to waive the rule for any class of works where technological safeguards were blocking users' lawful access to copyrighted material.

Mr. Klug said the measure provided a good balance between the sometimes conflicting interests of the two sides.

" I think it goes a long way to guarantee that in the new age in which we have unlimited access to information that we make sure that access doesn't come with a price," he said.