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Congress Slashes Hollywood's Copyright Wish List

It appears Hollywood's aim of rewriting the nation's copyright and intellectual property laws will fall far short of its once ambitious goals of crippling peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, lowering the legal standards for copyright infringement and banning commercial-skipping technology.

When the lame duck 108th Congress meets for the second time next week, the U.S. House of Representatives will consider the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2004 (S. 3021), a stripped-down version of a previously controversial package of proposed intellectual property laws.

Gone from previous versions of the omnibus bill are the Pirate Act, the Piracy Deterrence in Education Act and Sen. Orrin Hatch's (R.-Utah) Induce Act.

The legislation now primarily focuses on movie piracy in theaters through the use of camcorders and allowing consumers to fast forward past commercials on DVDs and videos. The bill calls for maximum prison terms of three years for anyone convicted of using a camcorder to pirate a movie. It also toughens penalties for selling pirated films before they are commercially released.

The Family Movie Act (FMA) portion of the legislation exempts from litigation technology that allows users to skip over objectionable content. The FMA once contained controversial language permitting the content skipping but banned jumping past commercials.

In his floor comments, Hatch said the FMA holds "absolutely no judgment whatsoever about the proper resolution of entirely unrelated disputes about the legality of commercial-skipping technologies."

Hatch added, "It would have been tragic if we had allowed a special-interest dispute about advertising to deny parents access to technology that give them and their children the opportunity to watch movies without being exposed to profanity or images of rape, sex or murder."

The Senate passed the legislation shortly before Thanksgiving.

"It [S. 2031] isn't great, but it's better than it was," Art Brodsky, communications director for the public advocacy group Public Knowledge, said. "It's a comparatively happy compromise."

Phuong Wokitis, director of public affairs for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), said the MPAA fully supports the legislation even though it lacks much of what Hollywood originally sought.

"That's the nature of Congress. We've gotten a lot [in the bill] and we're very satisfied," she said. "The fact we didn't get everything doesn't negate the fact that we are supporting the legislation."

The Recording Industry Association of America did not return a request for comment.