WIPO Broadcast Treaty Worries Advocates

There are talks of adding a provision in the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) that would give disseminators of intellectual property rights to that intellectual property regardless of whether the creator had a say in it or not.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

This latest news has sparked a lot of controversy from the EFF to even the internet service provider Telus.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of works under GPL and Creative Commons licenses. Creative Commons can allow a user to reuse that product because the licenses typically project the message from the creator that this is OK practice to redistribute that content. Under the new Webcasting treaty (which is related to the broadcasting treaty,) that very idea of redistribution may be in jeopardy as now there is talk of giving rights to broadcasters and other disseminators of content (including internet providers.)

According to an article in the LA Times, the Broadcasting treaty was “to stop international pirates from hijacking American TV signals and re-transmitting them over the Internet. […]TV broadcasters said they were not targeting average viewers recording their favourite shows, just large-scale thieves stealing their business.”

It’s not protecting actual TV signals that worries advocates, it’s where the broadcast signal protection ends and the mention that any disseminators of content having rights to intellectual property begins that has rung the alarm bells.

One source is Cory Doctorow’s explanation of this on the 68th episode of TWiT (Chavvy.) According to Cory Doctorow, even if content is in the public domain and broadcasted over the television airwaves, a person would still need permission from the broadcaster to re-use the content. This right for the broadcaster would last 50 years. Specifically, it’s what was broadcasted that the broadcaster would have the rights to under the broadcast treaty.

The more interesting part is the fact that Microsoft and Yahoo have been getting those rights to extend this to the internet. This will be called the ‘Webcasting Right.’ Leo Laporte used his own show (TWiT – This Week in Tech) as an example to describe what Cory explained by saying that yes, TWiT is under Creative Commons and a user has permission to reuse and redistribute that content. While this is his choice, a user under the webcasting treaty still cannot lawfully re-use or redistribute the show until they get permission from AOL Radio (who provides the bandwidth for the show.) This particular idea is why many advocates are particularly worried about this treaty. It is so worrying, according to the show, that Telus, the EFF (Electronics Frontier Foundation,) and the Creative Commons organization have already opposed this (according to the show.)

Perhaps the biggest reason why Creative Commons is opposing this is because it circumvents everything about the Creative Commons license and basically hands over the rights from the creator to the disseminators of the works (whether this is a web server or a service that offers accounts.)

According to an article on Intellectual Property Watch, ““We have the patent cloud, the copyright cloud, and now we’re going to have a broadcast cloud,” Lawrence said. He predicted such a treaty would “stifle innovation because it creates uncertainty.””

” The impact of the treaty on individuals and creators could be dramatic,” wrote Michael Geist on the BBC when describing what this was about. He writes, “When it became apparent in the spring that including webcasters within the treaty would result in a stalemate given many countries’ reluctance to expand the treaty beyond conventional broadcasting, that issue was moved to a separate track.

Despite that compromise, delegations have sought to bring the internet back into the picture, with the US recently raising the prospect of adding “netcasting,” while the European Union has focused on “simulcasting.” […] a coalition of critics of the proposed treaty, which included Dell, HP, Intel, Sony, AT&T, and Verizon, as well as library associations and civil rights groups, went on the offensive last week.”

This isn’t even a full list as the EFF has taken an initiative as well. The EFF has made a letter for US residents to send to their representatives to voice their concerns over this proposal in WIPO. Another Letter can be found here for podcasters.

In one public statement (PDF) the EFF writes, “Although the Treaty’s ostensible goal is protection against broadcast signal theft, the treaty goes far beyond that by creating broad new intellectual property rights over the recording or fixation, and subsequent uses of, recorded programming content. Creating a new layer of rights that apply on top of, an in addition to, copyright law, would allow broadcasters to restrict access to public domain works and uses of information that would be lawful under copyright law. […] The Internet is a flourishing world of user-generated right media content. Podcasting, MySpace and YouTube have all thrived without these new exclusive rights. Extending the treaty to the Internet could endanger the innovation environment that has made this world possible for two reasons. First, it will add further complexity to already difficult copyright clearance regimes. Second, because the treaty would create secondary liability for Internet intermediaries and manufacturers of technologies and devices that might be used to infringe the new rights, and will require technology mandates over device design, it will stifle the development of the very technologies and devices that have made this part of the Internet so successful, from affordable portable audio players and web syndication technologies like RSS, to video search engines that enable users to locate material created by others. Accordingly, the EFF opposes the extension of the proposed treaty to Internet transmissions, including both simulcasts and the broader concept of “netcasting,” proposed by the U.S. delegation to WIPO. Entirely new monopoly rights over Internet transmissions should not be created merely on the basis of a formalized notion of parity, but instead only after undertaking a more fundamental analysis of the necessity for such rights and the implications for the entire Internet community, including the educational community and users that generate content.”

The EFF later repeated this in another statement (PDF.) “If the treaty moves forward in any form, we believe that the current rights-based approach of the treaty must be abandoned. Creating broad new intellectual property rights in order to protect broadcast signals is misguided and unnecessary, and risks serious unintended negative consequences.”

More information on the WIPO meeting can be found here. Information on the draft proposal can be found here.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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