Federal lawmakers are wrestling with possible reforms to the "fair use" sections of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Federal lawmakers are wrestling with possible reforms to the "fair use" sections of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

At a day-long hearing today (May 12), members of the House Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet seemed evenly split over whether the law should be amended to allow consumers to circumvent copy-protection if they do so for non-infringing uses, such as making backup copies.

The record and film industries oppose the reform bill, The Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act of 2003, H.R. 107, which is co-sponsored by Reps. Rick Boucher, D-Va., and John T. Doolittle, R.-Cal.

"It is impossible to monitor private copying to assure that copies are made only for non-infringing purposes," testified RIAA president Cary Sherman. "A technology or tool which provides circumvention for 'non-infringing' purposes necessarily provides circumvention for any use, including blatantly illegal ones."

After the hearing, Sherman told Billboard.biz: "This bill isn't about fair use; it's about making [circumvention] 'black boxes' legal." He said House members should also realize that the issue "isn't just about commercial piracy, but about ordinary consumers who've become worldwide distributors of our content who have a misconceived and incorrect interpretation of 'fair use' to justify their behavior."

It's unclear at this point whether the bill has enough support to be escalated by vote to the full committee. It also faces hurdles before the House Judiciary Committee, where it has stagnated since its introduction in January 2003.