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UPDATE: Biden Bill Would Outlaw Watermark Tampering

2 May, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) has introduced a bill that would make it illegal to copy digital watermarks, holograms and other authentication devices attached to or embedded in DVDs or other copyrighted digital materials.

The bill would apply to movies and music as well as computer software and other items.

“America is a place where we must encourage diverse ideas, and with that encouragement we must protect those ideas,” said Biden, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, in introducing the bill Tuesday. “They are the source of our music, our art, our novels, our movies, our software, all that is American culture and American know-how. The anticounterfeting bill I am introducing will help give American ideas the protection they deserve.”

Under present law, prosecutors can only charge alleged offenders for trafficking fake computer software, not for counterfeiting the features that ensure that the product is genuine. Biden's Anticounterfeiting Initiative would expand the law to make illegal the counterfeiting of authentication features, such as holograms embedded into the packaging of DVDs, CDs, software and movies. It would let copyright holders recover up to 25,000 per violation and triple damages for repeat offenders.

Trade groups, including the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA), support the bill.

“VSDA supports "The Anticounterfeiting Amendments of 2002" and other efforts to strengthen the nation's laws against copyright infringement. Video piracy and other forms of copyright infringement harm legitimate retailers as well as copyright holders,” said Sean Bersell, VSDA's VP, Public Affairs. “It is important for all those who benefit from copyright law– and that includes video retailers – to make clear that we will not tolerate people who steal copyrighted works.”

Motion Picture Association of America president Jack Valenti also praised the bill.

"We support Chairman Biden's initiative to protect American innovation and creativity,” said Valenti. “His legislation makes clear that all consumers suffer when intellectual property is stolen."

American intellectual property represents the largest single sector of the American economy, employing 4.3 million Americans, according to Biden aides, who cite estimates that software piracy cost the U.S. economy more than 118,000 jobs and $5.7 billion in lost wages in the year 2000. Additionally, the International Planning and Research Corporation estimates that the government loses more than a billion dollars worth of revenue every year from intellectual property theft.

“The rising theft of American intellectual property through piracy and counterfeiting has cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs. It has cost the U.S. government tax revenues and U.S. corporations billions of dollars,” said Biden said in introducing S. B. 2395 Tuesday. “American innovation and creativity need to be protected by our government, just like our personal property, our homes and streets need protection.”

The bill is the result of Biden's February hearing on theft of American intellectual property. “Copyrights mean nothing if government authorities fail to enforce the protections they provide intellectual property owners,” said Biden. “The criminal code has not kept up with the counterfeiting operations of today's high-tech pirates, and it's time to make sure that it does.”

The Anticounterfeiting Initiative would also permit the victims of counterfeiting crimes to pursue the criminals themselves and recover damages in federal court.

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