New Copyright Law About to Pass

Monday, March 7, 2005

Wired News is reporting that the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005 is likely to get passed by the House and signed by the President very soon. The article focuses on one section of the legislation, the Family Movie Act of 2005, but there’s actually several interesting things going on here.

The first section, the ART Act, makes it illegal to make bootlegs of movies in theaters. I’ve written about such laws before — I think they’re kind of silly. Unauthorized copying of a copyrighted work is already illegal. Do we really need to fill the law books with every possible type of piracy and set new penalties for each one?

The next section is the Family Movie Act. This makes software like ClearPlay legal. ClearPlay edits movies as you watch them, removing obscene language, sex scenes, etc. Now, I’m not big on censorware, which is exactly what this is, but I look at this legislation as a positive thing. It affirms our fair use rights — the right to use your copy of a work any way you want in the privacy of your own home. It also protects those who create tools that make it easy for you to edit your copy of a work. I would have liked to see it written more broadly — this law only applies to movies — but it’s a step in the right direction.

The third section reauthorizes the National Film Preservation Foundation and gives it broader leeway to do whatever it takes to preserve the films in the National Film Registry. Seems like a good thing.

The final section is the Preservation of Orphan Works Act. It makes a small change to Title 17, Section 108. Basically, it gives libraries and archives greater rights when it comes to reproducing works that are in the last 20 years of their copyright. Of course, we’re almost to the point where that would be 20 years from never, but it’s still a positive piece of legislation.