September 23, 2005 | By Donna Wentworth

Don't Let Congress Ignore the Broadcast Treaty

WIPO's "Treaty on the Protection of Broadcasting Organizations" [PDF] is protection, all right: a protection racket for middlemen in the TV and Internet worlds.

If adopted, the WIPO treaty will give broadcasters copyright-like control over the content of their broadcasts, even when they have no copyright in what they show. A TV channel broadcasting your Creative Commons-licensed movie could legally demand that no one record or redistribute it -- and sue anyone who does. And TV companies could use their new rights to go after TiVo or MythTV for daring to let you skip advertisements or record programs in DRM-free formats.

If that wasn't bad enough, the US contingent at WIPO is pushing to have the treaty expanded to cover the Net. That means that anyone who feeds your "sound and images" through a web server would have a right to meddle with what you do with the webcast simply because they serve as the middleman between you and the creator.

John Naughton of the London Observer called the treaty "a control freak's charter." Mark Cuban, Tim O'Reilly, and 18 other Net experts called its webcasting provisions "unnecessary," and "likely to constrain, not increase, the creation of more information products for the public."

And yet, the US WIPO representatives are still pushing for it to go forward.

We don't think they are working in the best interests of the American public, nor do they have any sort of mandate to create new "rights" for middlemen to be used to restrict what ordinary Americans can do with their media. We think that the Library of Congress and the US Patent and Trademark Office should invite formal public comment on what they're doing to our networks, and Congress should hold public hearings so that the audience can have its voice heard.

Write to Congress and remind them that it's government's job to protect all of us, not just the broadcasting industry.

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