November 25, 2005 | By Gwen Hinze

Blogging WIPO: The New Internet Treaty

The UN's World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has just finished another round of deliberations on a new treaty. Although the draft treaty is nominally about Broadcasters' rights, most of the discussion focused on proposals to create new rights over Internet transmissions: the US's proposal to extend the treaty to "webcasting", and the European Union's pitch for "simulcasting" rights, covering retransmission of broadcasts and cablecasts over the Internet.

These proposals would give webcasters, broadcasters and cablecasters the right to control Internet transmissions irrespective of the copyright status of the transmitted material. EFF believes that this is likely to stifle technological innovation on the Internet, restrict the public's access to knowledge, and change the nature of the Internet as a medium of communication. Here's why.

Many countries expressed concern or outright opposition to including webcasting when the WIPO Copyright Committee last met, one year ago. Even WIPO acknowledged the lack of support for webcasting. Despite that, three proposals for granting webcasting rights were the focus of discussions this week. As the Nigerian delegate eloquently stated, the Working Paper's 3 options were like three doors that could all open to the same room.

This week most countries again expressed opposition to including webcasting in the draft treaty. Brazil, Iran (on behalf of the Asian Group), India, Argentina, Australia, China, Egypt, New Zealand, Nigeria, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Cameroon, Kenya, Uruguay and Morocco all stated that it shouldn't be part of this treaty. The US, Japan, Norway and Bulgaria want it included. And three countries expressed support for including simulcasting: Switzerland, Benin and Colombia. It appears that the European Union is moving towards supporting webcasting.

The treaty also includes broadcaster technological protection measure (TPMs) provisions that would require countries to enact technology mandates (like the US Broadcast Flag regulation) over televisions, radios and personal computers. This is particularly worrying because the treaty goes beyond broadcast signal protection and would grant broad new rights in fixations of transmissions, after a signal is received. (See the international NGO coalition recommendations for a more targeted signal protection approach.) Using TPM laws to enforce the treaty's broad new rights is likely to stifle Internet innovation and competition, and override consumers' existing personal use rights.

There was good news here: Brazil and Iran (on behalf of the Asia Group) repeated the call for their removal; Chile, Nigeria and Colombia expressed concerns about the potential impact of TPM laws on exceptions and limitations that protect the public.

The meeting ended in a deadlock with no real agreement on the scope of the treaty or the rights it should grant. The Chair recommended convening two further meetings in April and June 2006, to consider new exceptions proposals put forward by Brazil and Chile before the WIPO General Assembly votes on moving the treaty to a 2007 Diplomatic Conference.

Although the treaty occupied most of the limelight, the Committee did take time for some substantive discussion on Chile's important proposal for mandatory international copyright exceptions for libraries and archives, the disabled and educational uses. The discussions on these topics, on days 1-2, focused on current problems (including the impact of TPMs) and possibilities for using new technologies to benefit all humankind. They make for truly uplifting reading. (Here's EFF's statement.)

WIPO Member States may not agree often, but there was widespread support for further discussion of Chile's expanded proposal and the World Blind Union's call for a study of barriers to making works accessible to the disabled and recommendations for changes to international law to rectify that. Good news indeed.

Read the international NGO coalition's notes from the meeting.

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