If you don’t know about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), you should. This federal law contains provisions that limit your fair use rights.

And Congress now has a bill before it that will make the situation even worse.

Under current copyright law, teachers have the right to use small parts of a recording in their instruction. However, if the CD is protected and that same teacher uses software to bypass that protection, she has broken the law.

If you buy a DVD and use software to make a back up copy so the kids can’t scratch up the original, that’s legal. If the DVD is protected (as most are) and you make the copy, you’ve violated provisions of the DMCA.

When researchers at Princeton uncovered the “rootkit” distributed on some Sony music CDs last year (and which screwed up many computers), they hesitated to release their findings for fear of being sued under the DMCA.

The RIAA and friends, however, don’t think the current law is tough enough. So they’ve written for Congress the Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2006, stacking up new barriers to consumers exercising their rights.

Among other things, the law

Permits wiretaps in investigations of copyright crimes.

Creates “a new federal crime of just trying to commit copyright infringement. Such willful attempts at piracy, even if they fail, could be punished by up to 10 years in prison”.

Allows for “civil asset forfeiture penalties for anything used in copyright piracy”.

Which means that under these new provisions, the user (that’s you and me) will have even less control over the media they’ve paid for. Just attempting to use your fair use rights could earn you greater penalties that some drug trafficking offenses.

The reality, however, is that none of this will stop the piracy of music and other media. It will piss off an awful lot of what big media used to call “customers” and what their pet Congress critters euphemistically call the constituents they “represent”.

dmca, congress, copyright, fair use