New copyright bill a balancing act of protecting owner, user interests

The proposed Digital Millennium Copyright Act, now undergoing reconciliation by
congressional committees, would make it illegal to break the protective technologies by
which software companies and other copyright holders prevent copying of their works.

The bill’s purpose is to lay the groundwork for the technical means to protect
copyrighted material.

But the bill, HR 2281, would still permit reverse engineering of software if done in
good faith to achieve interoperability, said Brian Adkins, counsel for the Information
Technology Industry Council in Washington.

“Any time you make changes to intellectual property law, there always has to be
some kind of balancing” of interests, said Adkins, whose industry group has lobbied
for the legislation.

Adkins said the industry council expects the 105th Congress to pass the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act before adjourning next month.

One consequence of the act might be that government would have to negotiate license
agreements to permit agencies or their systems integrators to reverse-engineer commercial
product code for the purpose of ensuring interoperability, Adkins said.

Some network security experts believe the digital copyright bill should spell out
additional exceptions for reverse engineering to identify network security holes.

The industry council has asked that the legislation include language to clarify that it
does not prohibit network security testing or other conventional security practices,
Adkins said.

“People are realizing that when everything is in digital form and all computers
are networked, it could become impossible to enforce copyright protections,” he said.

Computer companies and software vendors have a strong interest in seeing that
electronic commerce takes off, Adkins said, and the bill “is one of the groundwork
things needed to help electronic commerce get as big as it could be.”

The bill, if passed, would create a new Commerce Department position of undersecretary
for intellectual property policy.

The president would appoint the undersecretary with the Senate’s consent.  

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