More than 40 consumer electronic, Internet and high-tech companies and groups are urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to take a go-slow approach to legislation that that would allow creative artists

More than 40 consumer electronic, Internet and high-tech companies and groups are urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to take a go-slow approach to legislation that that would allow creative artists to sue companies that profit by encouraging the public to commit acts of copyright infringement.

In a letter to committee chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and the panel's members, the groups contend that lawmakers are in too much of a rush to pass the Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act of 2004, or S. 2650.

They complain that the bill, introduced last month, would undermine the 1984 Betamax decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that time-shifting was a legitimate use for the VCR and that manufacturers of a product could not be held secondarily liable for infringing uses of the product by others so long as the product was capable of substantial noninfringing uses.

"This new threat would chill innovation and drive investment in technology (and accompanying jobs) overseas," the coalition's letter says. "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. 2650 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."

Among the letter's signatories are telephone giant Verizon, TiVo, Intel, Google and the Consumer Electronics Assn.

The bill targets the makers of file-sharing software products that have made free music and movie downloading a worldwide phenomenon, especially among teens. It has the support of the studios and other copyright industries.

"It is illegal and immoral to induce or encourage children to commit crimes," Hatch said at the bill's introduction. "Tragically, some corporations now seem to think that they can legally profit by inducing children to steal. This bipartisan bill would confirm that existing law should allow artists to bring civil actions against parties who intend to induce others to infringe copyrights."