WIPO broadcast treaty has few friends

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BRUSSELS -- A planned broadcaster protection treaty under negotiation this week at the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva is being slammed from all sides by broadcasters, IT giants and consumer groups.

Officials at WIPO, the United Nations agency devoted to copyright issues, are attempting to update the 1961 Rome Convention on the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations, which predates much of modern television technology. The need to revise the treaty has been made more acute by a growing signal-piracy problem in many parts of the world.

But commercial broadcasters have warned that the proposed treaty risks being stripped of any worthwhile measures as officials tried to reach a consensus among the negotiating governments.

"It fails to give broadcasters the rights we need to take action against free-riders in the Internet environment and, outside the European Union, it fails to give broadcasters the right to authorize legitimate exploitation of our services online," said Ross Biggam, general director of the Association of Commercial Television in Europe.

If WIPO's Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights can produce a draft version of a broadcast treaty by Friday, the measure will go to a full diplomatic convention in November. But Biggam said that WIPO's members are compromising too much to reach a deal.

"This would deprive broadcasters of real rights and remedies, and that is too high a price to pay. It would be better to abandon the process and admit that 10 years' work at WIPO had been wasted," he said.

The draft text would give broadcasters exclusive rights over anything they transmit -- equivalent to a new intellectual property right. Designed to prevent the international pirating of TV signals, it has attracted the ire of IT and Web firms who say that it extends WIPO regulation to the Internet.

Key IT firms and consumer groups last month signed a statement opposing the WIPO treaty, saying such rights over recording and retransmission could substantially raise the costs of using broadcasted material for personal or educational purposes, inhibit creativity and restrict the entry of information into the public domain. They also said it will create an entirely new set of liability problems for companies that aggregate third-party content.

The group -- which included AT&T, Creative Commons, Google, Verizon, Dell, the Consumer Electronics Assn. and the International Music Managers Forum -- warned that such a "rights-based approach" went well beyond what is needed to ban the theft of signals, which has cost broadcasters advertising and sales revenues.

The U.S. is not a signatory to the 1961 Rome Convention, which granted exclusive rights in signals to broadcasters. But Washington is still working to limit the scope of the proposed treaty to the combating of signal theft, instead of the more expansive rights that broadcasters had originally been seeking.
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