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WIPO broadcast treaty defeated by web activists

A controversial new intellectual property right due to be created by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) has been successfully opposed by a coalition of web activists and the technology industry.29 Jun 2007

WIPO has spent nearly 10 years gathering international agreement over a new deal for broadcasters which would give them intellectual property rights over broadcasts which would exist in addition to existing copyright laws.

But a campaign spearheaded by activist groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and involving thousands of podcasters and bloggers joined with technology industry giants such as Intel and defeated the move last week.

The Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCRR) of WIPO met last week to finalise a recommendation that the new proposal go to a special conference for ratification by WIPO as a whole.

At the end of the meeting, though, there was not enough agreement between member nations about the proposal and the Committee recommended that the proposal not be forwarded to a diplomatic conference for adoption.

Gwen Hinze is the international affairs director for the EFF. She told weekly technology law podcast OUT-LAW Radio about the opposition to the plans.

"If you create a new layer of rights that sit on top of copyright from a consumer's point of view that raises questions about access to information, so information that might otherwise be in the public domain as a matter of copyright law, the exceptions and limitations wouldn't apply and that raises some concerns about access to knowledge," said Hinze.

Podcasters were worried that the new right would affect material they produced and their ability to disseminate it on their own terms. One and a half thousand of them signed an EFF open letter to WIPO protesting against the move.

Consumer electronics companies also protested because the plan contained technological protection measures which they feared could give broadcasters control over television recording equipment, such as TiVO boxes.

WIPO wanted the new rule to replace the Rome Convention of 1961, which it says is out of date and does not cover cable televisions services.

The SCCRR had tried last autumn to have the rule proceed straight to diplomatic conference for ratification, but the General Assembly said that two more meetings were needed to hammer out international consensus on the move.

Opponents agree that television signal piracy is a problem that must be solved, but say that it can be solved with a 'signals based approach' rather than by creating an entire new intellectual property right.

"There is quite a significant body of people who have joined together and would back a signal based approach to a treaty," said Hinze. "So for instance in January there was a joint statement from a number of civil society groups, a number of tech companies and a number of library groups all in support of a signal based approach, giving broadcasters protection for their signals but not creating an exclusive rights approach that would have the unintended consequences that I have raised."

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