If you’ve never heard of the Induce Act, that’s pretty much the way the sponsors wanted it. The Congressmen who wrote the bill, formally known as the Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act, and the recording and motion pictures industries wanted to get it passed with no public hearings and as little publicity as possible. Anytime that happens in Congress you can bet your rights are being removed.
As so it is with Induce. If passed, the law would make it illegal to make or sell any device that could "induce" or encourage someone to make illegal copies of music, movies, television shows or computer programs. As written, however, the provisions of the law are so broad it could include a wide range of devices including the iPod, TiVo or DVD recorders. It could also stifle innovation of new devices.
At the moment the recording industry has it’s panties in a wad over peer-to-peer software like Grokster which allows users to share files on the Internet. Back in April a District Court ruled that services like Grokster were not liable for users who swapped illegal files using their software. So now comes the sledge hammer that makes it illegal to sell any program or device that someone might use to break the law. (Sidenote: just ask these same legislators about guns in that same context.)
Actually, the media companies have been upset about all this since the 80’s. That’s when they lost the first major case about copying their materials when the Supreme Court said people have the right to tape television programs for personal use. Since then more and more devices have been invented that allow their owners music and video programs to be legally used in ways that are more convenient for the owner.
The bottom line in all of this for those of us who teach is that Congress – and their friends who pay their bills – is steadily eroding the fair use provisions of the copyright laws. Fair use allows educators limited use of copyrighted materials for instruction and research. However, if the law forbids using devices that lets them take advantage of those rights, the rights themselves no longer exist. Which is probably the final goal of the media companies who would much rather have everyone rent their entertainment rather than buy it.