A Description of the Digital Future Coalition

The Digital Future Coalition (DFC) is committed to striking an appropriate balance in law and public policy between protecting intellectual property and affording public access to it. The DFC is the result of a unique collaboration of many of the nation's leading non-profit educational, scholarly, library, and consumer groups, together with major commercial trade associations representing leaders in the consumer electronics, telecommunications, computer, and network access industries. Since its inception, the DFC has played a major role -- domestically and internationally -- in the ongoing debate regarding the appropriate application of intellectual property law to the emerging digital network environment.

The DFC was forged in 1995 in response to the release of the Clinton administration's White Paper on Intellectual Property and the National Information Infrastructure. The White Paper recommended significantly altering existing copyright law to increase the security of ownership rights for creators of motion pictures, publishers and others in the proprietary community. Members of the DFC recognized that if the policy proposals delineated in the White Paper were implemented, educators, businesses, libraries, consumers and others would be severely restricted in their efforts to take advantage of the benefits of digital networks.

In 1995-96, Congress debated legislation (NII Copyright Protection Act) to implement the changes listed in the White Paper. This legislation ultimately stalled as the 104th Congress closed in the fall of 1996, in part because the DFC and other concerned parties helped to demonstrate that the bill did not provide for adequate balance between ownership and access rights, and a domestic consensus did not yet exist on how to update copyright law.

In addition to its domestic legislative and policy efforts, representatives of the DFC and its members attended a December 1996 conference of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) that was called to revise the primary international copyright treaty -- the Berne Convention -- for the digital age. The DFC worked to ensure that any agreements reached during the conference did not limit existing rights provided for under U.S. copyright law, and did not affect the ability of the United States to establish new rights to benefit the public interest. The DFC successfully participated in the creation and adoption of agreements that explicitly recognized the need to protect copyright owners, encourage information distributors, and assure public access to information.

Some key issues and proposals:

Since the WIPO conference, the DFC has been working on several interrelated proposals that are designed to achieve its goal of maintaining the crucial balance between ownership and access rights. Some of these proposals are outlined below:

Fair Use -- Current copyright law permits copyrighted material to be copied or shared without compensation under certain circumstances, such as: copying for personal use, or copying to promote the creation and distribution of new, noninfringing works. This is referred to as the "fair use" doctrine. The DFC advocates amending the copyright law to make clear that the fair use doctrine continues to apply with full force in the digital network environment.

Temporary Copies -- Some proposals offered by copyright owners would make temporary, or "ephemeral," reproductions that are created in computers or other devices in the course of the operation of digital information networks violations of copyright law. The result of such a law could mean that even "browsing" the Internet would be illegal. The DFC proposes to amend the copyright law to make explicit that it is not an infringement for a person to make a digital copy of a copyright protected work when such copying is incidental to the operation of a computer or other device as part of a digital information network.

First Sale -- Under current law, a person who has legally obtained a book or video cassette may transfer it to another person without permission of the copyright owner. The DFC proposes establishing a "digital equivalent" of the first sale doctrine to permit electronic transmission of a work in certain circumstances.

Preemption -- The DFC advocates amendments to federal law that would preclude copyright owners from using nonnegotiable "shrink-wrap" (e.g. the license terms that are listed as being effective because you opened the software that you bought) licenses to take away rights consumers otherwise would enjoy under the current copyright law.

Distance Learning -- The DFC advocates amendments to copyright law that would ensure that educators can use personal computers and new technology in the same way they now use conventional closed-circuit and broadcasting technology to foster distance learning.

Library Exemptions -- The DFC supports amendments that would facilitate the use of digital and new technology for archiving purposes.

Anti-Circumvention and Copyright Management Information -- The DFC advocates adding new sections to the Copyright Act to implement the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty to create liability for a person who, circumvents technological copy protection in order to commit copyright infringement. The DFC also proposes creating liability for a person who knowingly provides false copyright management information, or who removes copyright management information without the authority of the copyright owner. [For further information regarding this important issue, please visit the Home Recording Rights Coalition website.]

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