A battle has been raging in Congress the past few years over a series of bills intended to formalize several forms of copyright violation and intellectual property misappropriation, and mandate various punishments for each. Lumped together into HR2391, or the Intellectual Property Protection Act, were several different bills, including such disparate elements as the Family Movie Act of 2004 (let people fast-forward through objectionable content) and the PIRATE Act (lock up P2P file sharing bandits forever). There's even a part in there where the DOJ would be obligated to sue copyright infringers at the request of the RIAA. While interactive kiosk and digital signage owners might be yawning over this wondering why I'm even bothering to write about it, they should be checking out this paragraph from last March's version of HR2391, which allows for:
imperceptible, by or at the direction of a member of a private household, of
limited portions of audio or video content of a motion picture, during a
performance in or transmitted to that household for private home viewing, from
an authorized copy of the motion picture, or the creation or provision of a
computer program or other technology that enables such making imperceptible and
that is designed and marketed for such use at the direction of a member of a
private household, if -- '(A)no fixed copy of the altered version of the
motion picture is created by such computer program or other technology; and
(B)no changes, deletions or additions are made by such computer
program or other technology to commercial advertisements, or to network or
station promotional announcements, that would otherwise be performed or
displayed before, during or after the performance of the motion
picture.'"(my own emphasis added)
Granted that this language limits the reach of the law to Motion Pictures only,
but it's pretty clear to me that the plan was to limit the ability for a
consumer to use technology to skip commercials and trailers dispersed before,
during, or after the main content.
Interestingly, though, the original bill also states that, "the
term 'making imperceptible' does not include the addition of audio or video
content that is performed or displayed over or in place of existing content in
a motion picture." So it looks
like Congress is happy as long as you're watching somebody's
commercials, but they don't really care who's.
These sorts of modifications to the already nebulous
concept of "fair use" could have numerous ramifications for owners of
networks who (legally or otherwise) use copyrighted content, videos, live
television feeds, and the like in public displays.
Fortunately, this time we dodged the bullet, as a much weaker version of the
bill, called SB3021
was just passed by the Senate, preserving things like jail terms for people who
take camcorders into movie theatres, but taking out the chunks about zapping
commercials or letting the RIAA have federally-funded attorneys file suit
against copyright violators.
As digital content distribution becomes increasingly
widespread, we're bound to see more legislation get introduced to try and
separate out the legal and illegal uses of copyrighted content. We all have a responsibility to ensure that
our networks only use properly licensed content in a fair, legal and appropriate
manner. Unfortunately, given the
intricacies of intellectual property law (in the US and elsewhere), this isn't
as easy as it sounds.
On a final note, I'm not qualified to give legal advice,
so please don't take any of the above to be anything other than my
unprofessional opinion. Likewise, while
I'll be happy to share my experiences and observations with anybody who might
care to email me, questions about fair use or intellectual property law will
all be answered with the same four words: talk to your lawyer.