Backers of stronger copyright laws form lobby group

Copyright Alliance draws applause from Hollywood Democrat Howard Berman, who heads a key House panel that writes intellectual property laws.
Written by Anne Broache, Contributor
WASHINGTON--Some of the staunchest advocates for stricter copyright laws have formed a new alliance designed to pressure Congress into preserving stronger intellectual property rights.

The Copyright Alliance--which launched, complete with electric-green and white T-shirts displaying its logo at a morning Capitol Hill event here--consists of 29 national organizations and companies that purport to represent 11 million workers in copyright-related industries. Those members include the Recording Industry Association of America, the Association of American Publishers, the Motion Picture Association of America, Microsoft, Viacom and Walt Disney.

The group's members aren't expected to agree on all the nuances of policy debates, said Patrick Ross, the alliance's executive director.

But according to a press release, they're all committed to broad goals like promoting the "vital role" of copyright in the U.S. economy and job market, encouraging inclusion of copyright protection requirements in international agreements, supporting civil and criminal penalties for piracy, and advocating against "diminishment" of copyright law.

As copyrighted works become ever more widely distributed through digital means, those who own the rights "still want to get paid," Ross said.

The group's formation drew applause from key politicians who preside over copyright law changes, including U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who heads a key House panel that influences copyright laws.

In a brief appearance at Thursday's event, Berman, who represents suburban Los Angeles, credited the late Jack Valenti, a former MPAA head, with encouraging him to get involved in intellectual property lawmaking after he was first elected to Congress in 1982. Berman spoke of the need to combat "the constant assaults on copyright law" and called the group's formation "a tremendous idea."

"Sometimes the image our opponents like to draw of 'the industry' just isn't a realistic portrait of what's going on," he told about 70 people gathered for the event, after noting that "some dear friends" were in attendance.

He admitted that his timeline for copyright law action was unclear, thanks in part to a focus on contentious patent law revisions. But he suggested that his priorities will revolve around updating the way royalties are paid to artists, including taking another look at traditional radio's long-standing exemption from a certain class of payments, something its counterparts in the Internet-based and satellite sphere do not enjoy.

At the event, the alliance sought to draw attention to the importance of copyright-dependent industries by showing a short video depicting photographers, animators and other artists deemed "the face of copyright." Grammy-winning Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier, guitarist and Booker T and the MGs member Steve Cropper, famed folk singer Tom Paxton and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Tim O'Brien also showed up to tout the importance of copyright to their livelihoods.

The Copyright Alliance's message, however, is not without competition. October marked the launch of a Washington-based alliance, called the Digital Freedom Campaign, whose members include the Consumer Electronics Association, advocacy group Public Knowledge, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

That group argues that big labels and studios are threatening to squelch new gadgets and consumer freedom by chipping away at the fair use rights written into copyright law. They support proposals like the Fair Use Act, sponsored by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and three of his House colleagues, which would amend the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act to allow consumers the legal right to pick digital locks on copyrighted works for certain home or educational purposes.

RIAA President Cary Sherman, for his part, has denounced the group's stance as an "extremist" interpretation of the law designed to frighten consumers and policymakers.

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