Summary of Bills Pertaining to
Copyright Law
in the 106th Congress

This page summarizes the following bills:

HR 1761, Copyright Damages Improvement Act

This page was last updated on August 3, 1999.

Sponsor. Rep. James Rogan (R-CA) (web site | bio). Cosponsor. Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC).

Summary. HR 1761 is a very short bill that increases statutory damages available under 17 USC 504 for copyright infringement. HR 1761 IH was the original version introduced on May 11, 1999. HR 1761 RH was the version adopted by the House Judiciary Committee on May 26, and the full House on August 2.

Title 17, Section 504 is the federal statute setting remedies for copyright infringement. Under this section 504 an infringer is liable for either actual damages and lost profits of the copyright holder, or specified statutory damages. The copyright holder is allowed to elect the remedy.  HR 1761 increases the statutory damages.

If the copyright holder elects to receive statutory damages, then the basic rule under the current statute is that the court awards at least $500, but not more than $20,000, for one infringement. Under HR 1761, this range is increased to $700 to $30,000. Also, in cases where the copyright infringement is "committed willfully", the current maximum statutory damages is $100,000. HR 1761 IH increased this to $150,000. However, HR 1761 RH, the bill reported by the Judiciary Committee, and approved by the House, increased this to $300,000. Since the statutory damages limits have not been amended in over ten years, these two changes could be described as adjustments for inflation.

Next, HR 1761 contains a change that would aid copyright holders in actions against copyright infringers who use web sites to distribute pirated property. The new clause reads:

"In a case where the copyright owner demonstrates that the infringement was part of a repeated pattern or practice of infringement, the court may increase the award of statutory damages to a sum of not more than $250,000 per work."

Rep. Rogan described the problem in his opening statement at the House Courts and Intellectual Property (CIP) Subcommittee hearing on the bill on May 12, 1999. "The Internet and online commerce have opened a whole new world to consumers and to businesses. But at the same time, it has created a new venue for those who deliberately break the law and violate copyright protections."

The initial version of the bill would amended the bankruptcy code, Title 11, to provide that damage awards for willful infringement are not dischargable in bankruptcy. The clause read: `For purposes of chapter 5 of title 11, `willful' infringement shall be considered to be willful and malicious injury to the property of another.'. However, this language was not included in the bill reported by the Judiciary Committee.

HR 1761 RH also added new language regarding the sentencing guidelines. As of the May 12 CIP Subcommittee hearing, the Justice Department had yet to bring one case under the No Electronic Theft Act, passed in 1997. The DOJ rationalized that one problem was that the Sentencing Commission had not established sentencing guidelines for the NET Act.

HR 1761 RH also addresses the dereliction of the U.S. Sentencing Commission by setting a deadline for acting. However, it also addresses the content of the guidelines. They must be based upon the "retail price" and "quantity" of the infringed items. This is designed to prevent someone who pirates products that sell for $10,000, and then resells them for $50, from being sentenced as a petty thief.

Status. HR 1761 was introduced on May 11, 1999. It very quickly received a hearing, and markup by the Courts and Intellectual Property Subcommittee and the full Judiciary Committee. It passed the House on August 2. The Senate version of this bill, S 1257, passed the Senate on July 1.

Legislative History with Links to Related Materials.

S 1257, Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act

Sponsor. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Cosponsors. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Charles Schumer (D-NY).

Summary. S 1257 IS is the Senate version of HR 1761. It is identical to the HR 1761 RH, except that it does not include the section pertaining to sentencing guidelines.

Status. This bill was introduced on June 22, 1999, adopted by the Judiciary Committee on July 1, and approved by the Senate on July 1.

Legislative History with Links to Related Materials.

S 1260 IS, Untitled Bill Amending Copyright Law

Sponsor. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Cosponsor. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).


Status. This bill was introduced on June 22, 1999, and adopted by the Judiciary Committee on July 1.

Legislative History with Links to Related Materials.