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Congress reps launch fightback on DRM rights erosion

Fair rights to copy - are these people communists or what?

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Two US Congress representatives are this week raising the standard of rebellion against the entertainment business' use of DRM and the DMCA to erode consumer rights, and hence to enhance their own revenues. Rep Zoe Lofgren of San Jose introduced her Digital Choice and Freedom Act of 2002 earlier this week, while Rick Boucher, who's been threatening moves on the subject for a while now, has called a press conference at 11am Washington time "for the purpose of announcing the introduction of legislation to reaffirm fair use rights in the digital era."

Both are in the first instance pushing for fair rights for people to copy media they've already bought, but as we and they know, this has far wider implications, and should result in a battle royal. Boucher, however, says he has broad support from "the public interest community and by technology companies, representatives of which will also attend the press conference." No names as yet, but we'll be taking a register later - be there or be square.

Lofgren's list of supporters, here, lists a few of the usual suspects, all of whom are good guys, but as yet no technology companies. The specifics of her proposed legislation, which you can get in the press release here, are far more interesting right now because they take the 'far wider implications' we mentioned earlier head-on:

1. Allow lawful consumers to make backup copies and display digital works on preferred digital media devices.
2. Protect lawful consumers by prohibiting shrink-wrap licenses that limit their rights and expectations.
3. Clarify that lawful consumers can sell or give away their copies of digital works, just like they can with traditional hard media.
4. Protect lawful consumers by permitting them to bypass technical measures that impede their rights and expectations.
5 .Provide flexibility for content owners to develop new and innovative ways to protect their content and enable lawful uses.

And doncha just love that last one? So long we accept that it's all just software (and as the music business is increasingly pitching this, it's logical for it to cut both ways), point 1 at least impedes DRM for both music software and, er, software software (shall we just call it all software for now?). Point two is at the moment clearly pointed at software software, as music software isn't yet entirely up to speed on outrageous shrink-wrap licences (clearly we can't just call it all software then. Sorry).

Point 3 could have implications for OEM bundled software software, depending on how the legislation pans out, because if you're a lawful consumer who bought it as part of a bundle, then you might reasonably have the rights to sell on the software later.

And point 4? It is absolutely exquisite, in that it balances the proposals from The Other Side that they be allowed to engage in legal hacking in order to protect their property. So OK, if they're breaking the law by impeding your rights and expectations you can disassemble their software, maybe even hack them back, and this is surely the sort of the stuff that the electronic frontier should really be all about.

Point 5 would of course be absolutely vital if the other stuff all went through, and both DRM and the DMCA would be severely dented along the way. Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of people, if you ask us. OK Rick, over to you. ®

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