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A Novell executive says quick copyright law changes are needed to stop pirates from speeding along the information superhighway to make illegal software copies and sales.

And Daniel Burton, vice president of Novell, which is based in Provo, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that without such changes, many computer programming manufacturers will not risk making their products available via the Internet."Owners of such works must be confident that by putting their creative works on the Internet they are not creating an opportunity for wholesale piracy worldwide," he said.

"Only in a transmission environment fully protected by copyright law will they be able to participate in this brand new market place."

Burton said a bill by committee chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, would provide the right amount of protection without going overboard.

Hatch's bill would clarify that copyright laws protect works when they are transmitted over digital networks. Some have criticized it saying such protection likely exists already, and others have said Congress needs to take even more drastic steps.

"We believe both of these extremes are misguided," Burton said.

"Doing nothing would leave the biggest advance in computer communications in a state of legal uncertainty that is likely to deter creativity and the flow of information over the Internet."

He added, "Doing significantly more than that is neither wise nor necessary at this time. With minor amendments, the Copyright Act is fully capable of responding effectively" and giving software publisher and others the legal tools they need.

Burton said, "The problems of piracy in a digital environment cannot be overstated. Its costs are staggering. Each year software theft costs the software industry an estimated $10 billion to $50 billion worldwide."

He said Novell alone estimates it loses $500 million a year from products that are illegally copied.

Burton said Novell and other software manufacturers have banded together to seek out and prosecute pirates - but it is increasing difficult.

"The factory of the modern pirate consists of a computer and a modem. And the wire is his means of distribution. With the touch of a few buttons, a pirate can make an unauthorized copy of a work and disseminate it worldwide," he said.

He said the legal changes Hatch is proposing are flexible enough to allow software companies themselves to make changes to keep up with pirates by not mandating one or two systems to help prevent infringement which could become outdated quickly.

Hatch said his bill is needed to protect not only software manufacturers but also the producers of music, art, videos, books and photography that can also be transmitted digitally.

"To realize the potential of digital networks, we must create a legal environment that encourages more and more products and services to go online," Hatch said.