After cobbling together a string of copyright bills in the hopes of gaining enough support for final passage, lawmakers are ripping the package asunder in a desperate effort to push some of the provisions across the legislative finish line, according to congressional and industry sources.
The move comes as lawmakers recognized that support is lacking for several sections of the more extensive bill, the sources said. In particular, portions of the legislation that would allow the Justice Department to file civil suits against copyright infringers appears to be close to dead, the sources said.
However, a provision that makes it a federal crime to camcord a movie, and a provision known as the Family Movie Act, that would indemnify companies that make filtering technology to "clean up" allegedly violent or sexually explicit behavior in movies and TV shows, have a stronger heartbeat. The camcorder legislation makes it easier for law enforcement officials to pursue copyright pirates who make works for sale on the street before they are released to the public.
Lobbyists for the entertainment industry, the consumer electronics industry and public interest groups have been operating in overdrive during the short lame duck congressional session in an attempt to win approval of their preferred language in the legislation.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has emerged as a key figure in attempts to get the legislation approved. McCain has held up consideration of the Family Movie Act over a provision added to the bill that would prevent playback devices from skipping commercials. The Judiciary Committee twinned the camcorder legislation with the Family Movie Act as a way to force the studios to give up their opposition to the content-filtering legislation.
While the studios opposed the Family Movie Act, language was added to the bill to make it clear that the technology must not add content, edit commercials, change the underlying work and that the measure applies only to home viewing.
McCain would abandon his objections to the bill if that language were stripped, but Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the chairman of the House's copyright subcommittee, is still pushing for the entire package.
"There's no way to rule anything in or out," one aide said. "We've been talking about this for days. There's still hope for final passage of the whole thing."
McCain also is trying to win concessions on the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act rewrite, sources said. The satellite TV legislation renews satellite TV companies' right to retransmit network programming which expires this year and is considered a "must-pass" bill. It also increases the royalty copyright holders receive for programs transmitted by satellite.
The sources say McCain wants the legislation to include language that makes it easier for DBS companies to import a digital TV signal into the so-called "digital white area" -- locations where customers are unable to view it over the air -- and eases the requirement that force EchoStar to carry all stations in a local market on one dish, the sources said.
Both provisions are being sought by EchoStar, whose founder and CEO Charlie Ergen is a McCain ally.
Altering those provisions is opposed by the broadcast industry, whose allies beat back attempts by McCain to change them in the Senate Commerce Committee.