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Congress Mulls Copyright Law

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Mar 3, 2004 1:00 PM PST    Text size: 
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new bill is being passed through congress that would enable companies to copyright databases and sets of information, making access to certain data without permission, copyright infringement.

Titled the 'Database and Collections of Information Misappropriation Act,' the bill would put unprecedented limitations on information that turns up in search results and is otherwise available for public access.

Under the terms of the bill, which is being blasted by critics, copying or redistrubuting company-owned information, which could include public health information, stock quotes, sports scores, voter lists, and even weather reports, would be prohibited by law, unless permission was granted.

The bill is being backed by several companies that run enormous public access and fee-based databases, like LexisNexis and Westlaw, a publisher of legal database information, Wired reports.

Support of the bill stems from an interest in protecting collections of information, and the investment in that information, from being pilfered indiscriminantly by other companies. The sentiment among supporters is that current copyright law and usage agreements do not adequately protect database content.

According to reports, the bill has already been presented in several versions and would require a company to go to great lengths to prove that its data has been misappropriated. Wired reports that infringement criteria would also include proof of injury.

Typical cases pertain to third-party usage of large amounts of data, like in the case of a search engine, although there is still some uncertainty as to how the bill would affect individual users.

The bill also comes with an indefinite expiration date, unlike current copyright law that expires after 70 years.

According to Wired, search engines could conceivably be violating copyright law by spidering the web for search results that require access to certain company databases. And similarly, websites or news organization would be violating the law by gathering news headlines and featuring them on their websites.

Opponents of the bill claim that it would severly hinder the amount of free exchange between indivuduals, and that ownership of public information would be in direct contradiction of the U.S. Constitution, which assures citizens the right to access and use information.

Opponents of the Misappropriation Act include organizations that rely on public access to information like search engines, the American Association of Libraries, and numerous news and newswire organizations.

Some critics are saying that the bill would also steal thunder from the U.S. Copyright Act, which states that information and ideas cannot be copyrighted.

According to reports, the House Judiciary Committee has already given the bill its approval and its next stop is the Commerce Committee.

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