Copyright bills extend terms, limit service providers’ liability
WASHINGTON, D.C.–Congress passed two bills in early October that would lengthen the protection period of copyrighted works by 20 years and guarantee online providers limited responsibility for online copyright infringement.
The Copyright Extension Act lengthens the protection period of copyright works created after January 1, 1978 from 50 years to 70 years beyond the authors life, or from 75 years to 95 years for copyrights held by corporations. It also lengthens protection by 20 years for works created before 1978 that are still copyrighted.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act protects online service providers who unknowingly serve as a conduit to transfer copyright protected information, as long as copies of the information are kept on the provider’s system for no longer then is needed for the transfer. Service providers are also exempt if they are unaware that protected material has been transferred and did not receive any monetary gain from any activity directly related to infringement.
The act also makes it a crime to circumvent anti-piracy measures that are sometimes built into commercial software. It also criminalizes the manufacture, distribution or sale of “code cracking” software that is used to bypass electronic devices which protect information from illegal duplication.
The Copyright Extension Act, according to The New York Times, was introduced after extensive lobbying by Disney and Time Warner, who are in jeopardy of losing copyrights which expire in the near future. Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Pluto, Donald Duck and the songs of George and Ira Gershwin would become public property in the next few years under current copyright law, the Times reported.
Opponents of the measure argue that creative and cultural expression would be stifled if the public is not allowed free and fair access to works of art after a reasonable amount of time.
Copyright holders argue that European copyright law protects an original artist twenty years longer than the 50 years in the U.S., and if U.S. copyright law fails to equal European law, the domestic companies will remain disadvantaged in the expanding global market.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is intended to bring United States law in line with international World Intellectual Property Organization treaties that prohibit circumvention of anti-copying technology and alteration of copyright management information.
President Clinton has spoken out in favor of both acts in the past. (S. 505, The Copyright Extension Act; S. 2037, The Digital Millennium Copyright Act)