Close of Century Sees New Copyright Amendments

By Gasaway, Laura | Information Outlook, March 2000 | Go to article overview
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Close of Century Sees New Copyright Amendments


Gasaway, Laura, Information Outlook


As the twentieth century drew to a close, a number of amendments to the Copyright Act of 1976 were signed into law, Although more in number than last year's, they are not nearly as sweeping or important as those enacted at the end of 1998. None of these amendments should be a major concern for libraries, although some of them have the potential to affect libraries. The new amendments (1) raise the level of statutory damages under the Act, (2) require the United States Sentencing Commission to develop guidelines under the No Electronic Theft Act, (3) add sound recordings to the definition of works for hire, and (4) increase the fees for registering a copyrighted work.

Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999

This amendment, Pub. L. 106-160 was signed by President Clinton on December 9, 1999. The major thrust of the amendment is to increase the statutory damages for copyright infringement from the current range of $500 to $20,000 per act of infringement to a range of $750 to $30,000. In cases of willful infringement, the cap has now been raised from $100,000 to $150,000. The amendment was effective immediately upon signing. A copyright owner who sues for infringement may elect to receive either actual damages and profits or statutory damages. The advantage of statutory damages is that the owner is relieved of having to prove the actual amount of damage. However, in order to be eligible to receive statutory damages, the copyright holder must have registered the work with the U.S. Copyright Office prior to occurrence of the infringement. Statutory damages generally are aimed at providing a deterrent for infringement and to compensate the copyright holder for the harm.

The primary reason for the increase in the damages is to reflect general inflationary increases for all types of goods and services. The damages originally were $250 to $10,000; a 1988 amendment increased the damages to $500 to $20,000. It now appears that every decade or so the statutory damages cap will be raised.

The 1997 No Electronic Theft (NET) Act was also amended by this act to direct the U.S. Sentencing Commission to develop emergency sentencing guidelines within 120 days. The NET Act was intended to curb digital piracy by expanding the Copyright Act's criminal infringement liability provisions even where there is no intent to profit from the infringement. The Act makes it a federal crime for anyone to willfully reproduce digital copyrighted works for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain. If the works copied are valued at $2500 or more, a convicted defendant may be fined up to $250,000 and sentenced up to five years in federal prison.

In fact, only one person has been charged under the Act. Jeffery Gerard Levy, a 22-year old University of Oregon student had loaded large quantities of copyrighted software, music, games, and movies onto his web site for download. The web site was hosted by the University of Oregon, which feared liability under the online service provider provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and university officials notified authorities after it noticed the high volume of traffic that was generated by the defendant's web site.

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