The 183 member states of the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization are gathered in Geneva this week to discuss the controversial draft WIPO Broadcasting Treaty. EFF's main concern with the current treaty draft - shared by the other 40 public interest groups, companies and industry groups that have submitted a joint statement to WIPO this week - is that it is not limited to signal theft. Instead, it creates a set of broad and unwieldy intellectual property rights in the recording and use of fixed transmissions, which are likely to restrict the public's access to information in the public domain, preclude uses of works permitted under national copyright law, curtail consumers' use of lawfully-received programming in their home, and stifle technological innovation.
Over the last year there has been widespread support for moving to an alternative signal-focused treaty. Last October, WIPO's plenary body, the General Assembly seemed to endorse just that. It gave the Copyright Committee a clear mandate for this week's discussions: to agree and finalize the objectives, specific scope and object of protection for a signal-based draft treaty, which will be discussed at an intergovernmental Diplomatic Conference in November.
This, of course, brings us to the key question: What does "signal-based" mean? And that has been the focus of discussion for the last two days. Despite the clear concerns expressed by many Member States with the current rights-based approach - as evidenced by the heated discussion at the 2006 General Assembly - the Chair told us that the current draft was indeed signal based, but now needed to be more so. He also stated that a signal-based approach did not necessarily preclude exclusive rights, nor protection of a signal after it ceased to be a "live signal".
In other words, a "signal-based approach" could look quite like the current treaty draft. Rights creation, but under a different name. [More after the jump]