A new bill in the US Congress aimed at protecting the fair use rights for consumers of copyright material would "legalize hacking," the Recording Industry Association of America said.

The Freedom and Innovation Revitalizing US Entrepreneurship (FAIR USE) Act, introduced onTuesday by Representatives Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat, and John Doolittle, a California Republican, would allow customers to circumvent digital copy restrictions in six limited areas when copyright owners' business models are not threatened, Boucher said. So-called fair use doctrine allows customers of copyright works to make limited numbers of copies, particularly for reviews, news reporting, teaching and research.

The bill would allow exemptions to the anticircumvention restrictions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed by Congress in 1998. The bill is revamped from similar bills introduced in the last two sessions of Congress, Boucher said.

"The fair use doctrine is threatened today as never before," Boucher said in a statement. "Historically, the nation's copyright laws have reflected a carefully calibrated balanced between the rights of copyright owners and the rights of the users of copyrighted material. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act dramatically tilted the copyright balance toward complete copyright protection at the expense of the public's right to fair use."

But the RIAA said the bill would effectively repeal the DMCA. The bill would "allow electronics companies to induce others to break the law for their own profit," it said in a statement. Advances such digital music sales, online games, on-demand movies and e-books can be traced to DMCA protects, the RIAA said.

"The difference between hacking done for non-infringing purposes and hacking done to steal is impossible to determine and enforce," the RIAA said in its statement.

The Boucher bill would limit the availability of statutory damages against individuals and firms who may be found to have engaged in contributory infringement, inducement of infringement, or other indirect infringement. The bill would allow libraries to circumvent digital locks or secure copies of works that have been damaged, lost or stolen.

The Consumer Electronics Association applauded the bill, saying it would give protections to consumers, educators and libraries. Without fair use protections, consumers couldn't use devices such as VCRs and digital TV recorders, the trade group said.