Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, renewed a campaign Wednesday to protect computer software companies from new businesses that rent computer programs - which makes illegal copying easy.

As the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks began hearings on the matter, Hatch said rental companies should be required to purchase the right to rent from software companies.That is important in Utah because it is home to some of the nation's largest software companies, including WordPerfect and Novell. Hatch even held a field hearing on the topic in Utah County - where those companies are based - last year.

Hatch said, "The overwhelming rationale for renting a computer program is to make an unauthorized copy. Computer software is often not something that can be enjoyed for an evening's entertainment and returned.

"The functions of learning how to use a program and utilizing it in connection with one's own data base usually cannot be accomplished in the few hours or days available under a rental arrangement without copying the program and displacing a legitimate sale."

He said that deprives software companies of their ability to recover development costs so much that "we may soon see this promising industry disappear from our marketplace."

Hatch's Computer Software Rental Amendments Act would require the authorization of the copyright owner before a copy of a computer program could be rented.

However, the bill would exempt non-profit libraries. It also would not cover the rental of computer program cartridges - which Hatch said "for all intents and purposes are copy-proof."

He concluded, "The threat of unlimited computer software rental poses just as grave a concern to the computer software industry today as did the threat of unlimited record rental to the recording industry in 1984."