Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a late-session bill June 22 that would allow artists and labels to sue peer-to-peer companies that profit from e

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a late-session bill June 22 that would allow artists and labels to sue peer-to-peer companies that profit from encouraging minors and others to commit copyright infringement.

The one-page bill, the "Inducement Devolves into Unlawful Child Exploitation Act of 2004," says that whoever "intentionally induces," or "intentionally aids, abets, counsels or procures" any violation of copyright "shall be liable as an infringer." Hatch removed language from the bill, which is nicknamed the Induce Act, that would have applied it to lawyers who take on P2P services as clients.

The Induce Act could sidestep the defense against contributory infringement used in the KaZaA and Grokster court rulings that employment of potentially copyright-infringing technology is legal if it also has a non-infringing use.

Co-sponsors of the legislation include Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Senate majority leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.; Senate minority leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

"Tragically, some corporations now seem to think that they can legally profit by inducing children to steal," said Hatch in a statement. "Some think they can legally lure children into breaking the law with false promises of 'free music.' This carefully drafted, bipartisan bill would simply confirm that existing law should allow artists to bring civil actions against parties who intend to induce others to infringe copyrights."

The RIAA applauded the bill, citing the April 2003 ruling of U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson on the liability of Morpheus and Grokster. According to the trade group, Wilson wrote, "The court is not blind to the possibility that Defendants may have intentionally structured their businesses to avoid secondary liability for copyright infringement, while benefiting financially from the illicit draw of their wares. While the court need not decide whether steps could be taken to reduce the susceptibility of such software to unlawful use, assuming such steps could be taken, additional legislative guidance may be well-counseled."

RIAA chairman/CEO Mitch Bainwol says of the new bill, "Sens. Hatch and Leahy, and a distinguished group of supporters, have crafted narrowly focused but meaningful legislation. This bill places the spotlight squarely on the bad actors who have hijacked a promising technology for illicit means and ignoble profits. Legitimate uses of peer-to-peer are upheld, while those who intentionally lure consumers into breaking the law are held to account. Under this legislation, the path to legitimacy remains clear: respect the law and block the exchange of works the copyright owner has not authorized."

Fair-use groups and Internet freedom groups criticize the bill as draconian. Before the bill was introduced, the Electronic Freedom Foundation posted a warning about the potential legislation on its Web site. "Even a moment's reflection should make the danger to innovators clear -- you now have to worry not just about contributory and vicarious liability, but an entirely new form of liability for building tools that might be misused," the group said.

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