Broadcast Treaty Sparks Serious Concerns
September 5, 2006
Filed under International
Forces seeking to draw attention to the efforts of WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Association) to craft a new broadcast treaty may be gaining momentum. WIPO has been working for years, largely under the radar screen, on a proposed treaty that would guarantee broad new intellectual-property-like rights to broadcasters, cablecasters, and perhaps webcasters. CDT and a diverse group of companies, trade associations, and public interest organizations today issued a joint document outlining serious concerns with the proposed treaty. The document offers a good general statement of what some of the key problems with the treaty are. But it is aimed first and foremost at the U.S. negotiators. Hopefully the show of opposition will provoke some serious thought on the part of the U.S. delegation about where the United States should stand in the talks regarding the treaty. It is a subject that deserves real scrutiny. The whole concept of granting IP-like rights to broadcasters is foreign to the US legal regime. The approach builds on a prior treaty that the United States never signed (the 1961 Rome Convention) and a legal concept that the United States has never embraced ("neighboring rights," designed to protect distributors of copyrighted content). In this country, copyright has always been about promoting and rewarding creativity. That is rooted in the Constitution and firmly established in our legal traditions. If the United States is going to consider a significant change in its approach to copyright law, it ought to be a matter of a full and public legislative debate. U.S. negotiators should not commit the country to such a change of course through a little-noticed treaty. Nor are questions about the treaty limited to matters of procedure or legal doctrine. The joint statement outlines some specific issues relating to fair use, home and personal networking, intermediary liability, and so forth. As an organization focused on free expression on the Internet, CDT is particularly concerned that creating a new layer of rights holders is likely to complicate and restrict the robust flow of information by and between individual Internet users. Officials with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office presumably heard many of these arguments at a roundtable discussion today involving a number of groups with a variety of views on the treaty. Check in with our friends from Public Knowledge a little later for updates on the roundtable. The message should be clear: there are important reasons to be wary of what WIPO is doing here. UPDATE - Gigi Sohn from Public Knowledge has posted her recap of the roundtable discussion. UPDATE 2 - We published a Policy Post that addresses these issues in greater detail.