September 27, 2005 | By Donna Wentworth

More Rights Are Wrong for Broadcasters

Copyright scholar James Boyle has a brilliant Financial Times column on the WIPO broadcasting/webcasting treaty that threatens to gum up the Internet with a new layer of "middleman" rights, for the nonsensical reason that it will create "parity" between broadcasters and webcasters:

The Broadcasting and Webcasting Treaty, currently being debated in Geneva, is an IP hat trick.

Much of what is broadcast over the airwaves is copyrighted -- the broadcaster licenses the film or song from a copyright holder and then plays it to you at home. What you probably do not know is that nearly 50 years ago broadcasters in some countries got an additional right, layered on top of the copyright. Even if the material being broadcast was in the public domain, or the copyright holder had no objection to redistribution, the broadcaster was given a legal right to prevent it -- a 20-year period of exclusivity. The ostensible reason was to encourage broadcasters to invest in new networks. The US did not sign this treaty. Has the US broadcast industry stagnated, crippled by the possibility that their signals will be pirated? Hardly. Copyright works well and no additional right has proved necessary. Has WIPO commissioned empirical studies to see if the right was necessary, comparing those nations that adopted it with those that did not? Of course not. This is intellectual property policy: we do not need facts. We can create monopolies on faith.

But now a new diplomatic conference is being convened to reopen the issue. Doubtless the goal is to abolish this right? ...No.

In the funhouse world that is intellectual property policy, WIPO is considering a proposal to expand the length of the right by 30 years and a US-backed initiative to apply it to webcasts as well. After all, we know that the internet is growing so slowly. Clearly what is needed is an entirely new legal monopoly, on top of copyright, so that there are even more middlemen, even deeper thickets of rights.

Not even the supposed beneficiaries of this new layer of rights agree that it makes any sense at all. Indeed, a group of 20 webcasters has written an open letter to WIPO specifically to reject it, explaining, "We do not desire the 'protection' you offer us, nor do we believe it will benefit us."

Read the entire FT column for more details about what's happening at WIPO and why. And if you haven't done so already, ask Congress to scrutinize the treaty so that we don't get another WIPO-hatched debacle like the DMCA.

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