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Recordable DVDs New Target of Hollywood

Some lawmakers are introducing a bill that Hollywood is not happy about — one that would allow consumers to make personal copies of digital entertainment like DVDs to be played on whatever device they want.

Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., author of the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act (search), says consumers should not always have to worry about being slapped with a lawsuit every time they make a copy of their favorite videos.

"We are seeking to empower the purchasers of digital media so that they can use the media in ways that are more convenient to them," Boucher told Foxnews.com.

Boucher said that empowerment would mean "for example, by being able to move digital material — whether it's video on a DVD or materials on a compact disc or the text of an electronic book — around from digital device to digital device in their home or in their extended personal environment."

The new bill amends the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (search) of 1998, which allowed copyright holders to put digital locks on their work and makes it illegal to break those locks.

Boucher's bill allows owners of DVDs and other works that have a digital lock to bypass the security and copy the work so long as the user is engaging in "fair use" of the product and not infringing upon its copyright.

A hearing on the bill has been tentatively scheduled for Wednesday.

The Motion Picture Association of America (search), which represents Hollywood's interests in Washington, D.C., has been the most vocal critic of moves to change the DMCA to allow people to make personal copies of movies.

"Anything that allows you to decrypt the DVD would not be a legal product," said MPAA spokesman Rich Taylor.

"There is no right in the copyright law to make backup copies of motion pictures, so the whole argument that people should have the right to make backup copies of DVDs has no legal support whatsoever," said Fritz Attaway, executive vice president of the MPAA.

"It's against consumers' interests to permit devices that make backup copies," he added, "because there is no way that a device can distinguish between a backup copy for personal use and making a copy for friends, family acquaintances or even selling on the street corner."

The MPAA recently sued 321 Studios (search), which makes a tool commonly called a "ripper," which circumvents the digital locks so consumers can make back up copies of DVDs.

321 Studio's software does include piracy provisions — a screen is inserted into the copy warning the user that the copy is only for personal use within the home and watermarking technology allows each copy to be tracked and traced.

Judges have ruled against the technology, but the company says it's merely helping people get the most for their money and that Boucher's bill would help further the "fair use" cause.

One former lawmaker said he didn't realize that the DMCA would restrict digital-content copying to the extent that it has.

"I, like most members of Congress, had no idea that what would be deemed to be fair use for books, CDs, and TV programs is not the case for DVDs — and nobody intended that the people that would enable you to make a single copy of a DVD should be held criminally liable and go to jail and that's insane," Bob Livingston (search), former U.S. Republican representative from Louisiana and House Appropriations Committee chairman, told Foxnews.com.

Livingston is now a lobbyist for 321 Studios.

"Moms and dads shouldn't have to fork over another $20-$30 every time little Johnny or Suzie scratches their DVD. The technology exists to prevent them from having to do that," said 321 Studios President Robert Moore.

"We're not talking about free use here and we're not talking about providing consumers the skeleton key to everyone else's property," he added. "We're talking about giving people lawful use of the property they lawfully acquired."

Livingston and others say the MPAA was merely trying to maintain a vise grip on content and pointed out that MPAA President Jack Valenti (search) in 1982 famously said the VCR would prove to be the "Boston Strangler" of the movie industry.

"They make the same argument about the new technology that's come out within the past 50 years ... from the VHS to the CD burner to now this technology," Moore said.

"The MPAA has chosen to seek a scapegoat for their very real problems that occur in China and other countries where they get their movies knocked off in mass production lines and sold for a tremendous discount," Livingston added.

The MPAA argues that it's in consumers' best interests that the digital locks not be bypassed.

"These products like 321 allow people to be free riders," Attaway said. "It's the concept of buy-one-get-one-free, only it's not just get-one-free but it's get-as-many-as-you-want-to-make-free ... It raises the prices for legitimate copies and it also reduces the availability of the copies."

Boucher has been spending the past two years garnering support for his bill. The likes of Intel, the Consumer Electronics Association, the American Library Association, the Digital Future Coalition, Consumers Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are now throwing their weight behind it.

"Making this change is manifestly in the public interest. It's in the interest of empowering the consumer," Boucher said. "Once the consumer is more empowered to use media he lawfully acquires ... he will want to buy more media ... even the content creators, the people who oppose this bill, will in the long-term, benefit."

Livingston said he thought support existed for the bill but 321 still may not have luck.

"We think that when the average member of Congress who voted for the DMCA in 1998 understands the inequity here that these people will make their case very clearly and simply and be overwhelmingly approved by a majority of members of Congress," Livingston said. "The trick is getting members to pay attention in a political [election] year."