The Senate Judiciary Committee has planned a hearing for July 22 to debate the so-called Induce Act. Meanwhile, RIAA chairman/CEO Mitch Bainwol on July 13 sent a letter of support for the legislation

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Judiciary Committee has planned a hearing for July 22 to debate the so-called Induce Act. Meanwhile, RIAA chairman/CEO Mitch Bainwol on July 13 sent a letter of support for the legislation to every member of the Senate.

In this election year, Congress has less than 30 days to complete its agenda before adjourning.

The "Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act," S. 2560 -- introduced by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and co-sponsored by top Republican and Democrat leadership -- states that whoever "intentionally induces," or "intentionally aids, abets, counsels or procures" any violation of copyright "shall be liable as an infringer." The bill, introduced in the Senate on June 22 , would allow artists and labels to sue peer-to-peer companies on the grounds that they profit from encouraging minors and others to commit copyright infringement.

The legislation has set off a firestorm of opposition, with record companies and artists on one side and consumer-electronics firms, Internet companies and high-tech communities on the other.

Opponents say the bill's broad language will stifle creation of new technologies and products. They are also fearful that under the legislation, the "safe harbor" standard set by the Supreme Court in the 1984 Sony-Betamax case may be overturned, thereby subjecting the makers and distributors of consumer products to liability.

On July 9, a coalition of 43 groups opposing the measure wrote a letter to Hatch, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and committee members. It said:

"By combining (1) a new and separate cause of action for 'intentional inducement,' (2) a lower civil, rather than higher criminal, standard of liability, and (3) a circumstantially 'reasonable' test', S. 2560 would seem to ensure that massive and intrusive discovery proceedings and a jury trial, would await any innovator or investor who introduces to the market a product that some copyright owner, someplace, believes will 'induce' infringement."

The groups also maintain that the law would drive investment in technology and accompanying jobs overseas.

The letter's signers include the Electronic Freedom Foundation, Verizon, TiVo, Intel, Google, the Consumer Electronics Assn. and Public Knowledge.

P2P United, the lobbying group representing file-sharer favorites Grokster, Blubster, Morpheus and others, also sent a letter to Hatch and the committee, denying that such services induce piracy.

"The astonishing claim that the kind of wholly decentralized peer-to-peer software developed by the members of P2P United 'functions like Earth Station 5's piracy machine' is utterly inaccurate and indefensible," the lobbying group said.

In his letter, Bainwol -- making his first written public-policy request to Congress since taking the reins of the RIAA in July 2003 -- says that none of the groups opposing the measure dispute the core issue: that copyright infringers should be penalized.

"Those who accept the core purpose of the bill ought to come forth with constructive and concrete suggestions, not hypothetical and peripheral concerns," Bainwol writes in the letter. "Why? The men and women of the music community and their families -- and other content creators -- deserve action."

"Ironically," he adds, "these P2P operators who hide behind the protective cover of 'technology' resist deploying existing technological answers to solve this problem. They resist modernization because it undercuts their business model. There's a price to going legitimate. But you can make it harder for them to resist doing the right thing -- without imposing a mandate. And that's by raising the price for not going legitimate."