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House Passes WIPO Bill, but Senate Debate to Come
Calvin Reid -- 8/10/98
After more than a year of seemingly endless debate and grudging compromise, the Association of American Publishers and other copyright owners were cautiously celebrating last week after the House of Representatives passed H.R.2281, the legislation needed to implement the copyright treaties negotiated at the 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization meeting in Geneva. It was passed by voice vote just days before the House's August recess. However, interests on both sides acknowledge that several controversial features of the bill will require more negotiations in order to reconcile the differences between H.R.2281 and S.2037, the Senate version, when Congress reconvenes in the fall.
Nevertheless, Pat Schr der, president and CEO of the AAP, called the vote "a giant step toward final passage" of the bill. "The world is waiting to see how determined we are to protect America's copyright industries," she said.Allan Adler, AAP's v-p of legal affairs, told PW, "We're very happy it passed," and he added that it was critical to have the bill passed before the congressional recess.

Adam Eisgrau, legislative counsel to the American Library Association (a member of the Digital Future Coalition, a library and education group that claims the bill diminishes consumer rights), gave qualified support to the bill, noting that the current version comes closer to "a balance between protecting the rights of owners and the rights of users. We've established a permanent mechanism for updating the copyright law for the digital age." Eisgrau said the bill includes compromise language that addresses library concerns about digital preservation and archiving, institutional sharing, distance learning and anticircumvention devices.

Eisgrau was very critical of the House Judiciary Committee's decision to include a provision on copyright protection for databases in the bill, a contentious measure that he called "unfortunate and premature. We oppose it." Indeed, while the AAP supports the database measure, Adler told PW that it is not in the Senate bill and "it was not our wish that it be included in the House legislation. We knew it would complicate passage and we did not seek it."

Adler said that the database provision is not the only possible dealbreaker. He pointed to a growing conflict between the House's Judiciary and Commerce committees regarding jurisdiction over the bill, and a looming dispute about extending the term of copyright that could affect the bill's ultimate passage. Both the House and Senate will reconvene in early September. "There will be discussions between the congressional staffs and the various lobby groups during the recess," Adler said. "But it gives us about four weeks left in this session if we hope to get this bill passed this year."
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