US lawmakers reject changes to digital copyright law

A report commissioned by the US Congress concludes that the digital transmission of work would interfere with a copyright holder's exclusive right to reproduction

The US Copyright Office has rejected proposals that would expand the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to permit the digital transmission of lawfully purchased copies of work.

In a report made public last week, the Copyright Office says that although the physical redistribution of digital works is permissible, the digital transmission of work, covered in Section 109 of the Act, would interfere with the copyright owner's control over the intangible work and the exclusive right of reproduction.

The report is part of an ongoing evaluation by Congress on the relationship between technological change and the DMCA, and is mandated by a clause in the DMCA itself. Congress is likely to accept the findings of the report.

Section 109 of the Act has become a subject of controversy, and critics of the Act had hoped that the Copyright Office would consider changes to this part. Consumer groups who wanted to revise Section 109 argue that the transmission of a work that was subsequently deleted from the sender's computer is the digital equivalent of giving, lending or selling a book. But media companies believe that the deleting of copy would be unverifiable, leading to virtually undetectable cheating.

The Copyright Office decided against any legislative change to the US digital copyright law, and concluded that "the transmission of a work from one person to another over the Internet results in a reproduction on the recipient's computer, even if the sender subsequently deletes the original copy of the work... we find the analogy to the physical world to be flawed and unconvincing".

The Copyright Office defends its decision on the basis that physical copies degrade with time and use, whereas digital information can be reproduced flawlessly, and disseminated around the globe instantly and at a negligible cost.

Justin Watts, partner at city law firm Bristows, said he was not surprised the Copyright Office took this view. "The Internet has opened the door to a great many things that you can't do with a book," he said.

The recent US arrest of the Russian computer programmer Dmitri Sklyarov for circumventing the DMCA has highlighted how the Internet is complicating copyright laws -- Sklyarov was arrested under the Act even though he was not on US soil at the time he committed the alleged offence. There is no disagreement among copyright holders in the US and Europe that digital transmission should be prohibited, but emerging peer-to-peer technologies, and the mass sharing of digital information on a individual level, are making the situation very difficult to police.

"It's not difficult to see copyright holders keeping their exclusive rights into the indefinite future, but it will be more difficult to ensure that this right will do them any good unless they are able to catch breaches of this right," said Watts. "This has now become an issue for technologists rather than lawyers."

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