After Hours

Software firms want copyright law rewrite

Their new white paper could incite a tussle with Internet service providers, which historically have been loath to act as online cops.

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By Declan McCullagh
Staff Writer, CNET News.com

A group of large software companies has taken the first step toward inciting a tussle with the telecommunications industry by asking Congress to rewrite copyright law so alleged Internet pirates can be more easily targeted by lawsuits.

The group of companies, which is known as the Business Software Alliance, counts as members Microsoft, Autodesk, Borland, Intuit, Sybase and Symantec, among others. The group released a general outline of its suggestions on Thursday in a white paper that effectively describes its legislative proposals for 2005. The companies say they fear a revenue-sapping future in which software programs are traded as frequently and readily on peer-to-peer networks as MP3 music files are today.

One current law that the software companies single out for criticism is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which established a turbocharged subpoena procedure designed to let copyright holders unmask infringers. The law was considered a workable compromise when enacted in 1998, but a series of subsequent court decisions have created an "impediment to effective enforcement," the paper says.

Emery Simon, a top BSA attorney, declined to be more specific about the group's proposals, but any attempt to revise the law could place its members at loggerheads with Internet service providers, which historically have been loath to act as online cops or face liability for what their users do. Verizon Communications and Missouri-based Charter Communications have led court battles against the Recording Industry Association of America to curb the scope of the DMCA—and, in the process, effectively preserve the privacy of their customers.

"We are identifying a problem that needs attention," Simon said. "We need to find ways to let people do better enforcement."

Simon said, "We can foresee revisions to the Copyright Act...(but) we're not suggesting reopening the DMCA. We're identifying a problem that needs to be solved."

Still, Fred von Lohmann, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the BSA paper "appears to give short shrift to anonymity online. It assumes IP addresses accurately map to individuals. If you think that anonymity has a place online as it does in the real world, then you should begin to ask questions about whether (that's) a good assumption."

The BSA paper also suggests tightening the rules under which patents are issued to allow both proposed and issued patents to be challenged more easily.

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