A congresswoman from
Representative Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from
Lofgren's office acknowledged that passage of her bill would be an uphill fight in the U.S. Congress. The last version of the bill didn't get a hearing before Congress adjourned for the winter holidays. A spokesman for Lofgren said the bill's chances may depend on what anticopying initiatives the entertainment industry takes in Congress.
"I think our chances for a hearing are better than the ultimate chances for passage," the spokesman said. "Only time will tell."
The spokesman admitted that those in Congress pushing for consumer-rights changes to the DMCA were in the minority, but bills like Lofgren's raise awareness of the consumer issue. "It is now part of the debate, and people know about it," the spokesman said. "Consumers need a voice. This is not just a technology versus
Lofgren's bill, renamed the Benefit Authors without Limiting Advancement or Net Consumer Expectations, or BALANCE Act, would clarify consumer rights under the much-protested DMCA, passed in 1998. The bill would allow buyers to make backup copies and display digital works on devices of their choice. It would also prohibit non-negotiable, "shrink-wrap" licenses on digital content that "limit consumer rights," according to Lofgren's office, and it would allow consumers to bypass copy protection technologies if those technologies "impede" their fair-use rights under copyright law.
One of the most controversial sections of the DMCA outlaws most attempts to circumvent copy controls on digital content. Several companies have used the DMCA to stop programmers from creating copying software or competitors from creating products that interact with their own products.
"There is wide agreement to fight piracy, and it is something that needs to be stopped," Lofgren said in a statement. "But individual consumers are being denied their legitimate rights in the digital age. We can solve this problem, but lawsuits and locking down content are not the solutions."
Backers of the DMCA, including the Recording Industry Association of America Inc. (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), say the law is needed to protect digital content from piracy. The RIAA said it would have no comment on Lofgren's bill.
Jack Valenti, president and chief executive officer of the MPAA, said in an e-mail statement that Lofgren's bill would "put a dagger in the heart" of the DMCA.
"As drafted, this legislation essentially legalizes hacking," Valenti said. "It would deny content owners the ability to protect their works by technological means. This means that millions of movies could be illegally downloaded without penalty and without fear."