Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Government delegates are meeting this week at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) general assembly in Geneva to discuss the WIPO Development Agenda. The meeting will determine how developing countries must implement existing controversial intellectual property rights laws including copyrights, patents, and trademarks. They will also consider the disputed proposal for a global Treaty on the Protection of Broadcastings and Webcasting Organizations.

The Broadcastings/Webcasting Treaty proposal, pushed by traditional broadcast organizations, and lobbyists for a handful of Internet publishers, including Yahoo, is being pushed hardest by the United States government, which ironically, has never considered such legislation domestically. The treaty would create a new layer of intellectual monopoly rights for broadcasters, potentially including ‘webcasters’. Broadcasters would then be able to claim rights over material they broadcast–even material that was in the public domain or licensed under creative commons or copyleft licenses.

Many developing countries including Brazil, South Africa, India, Iran, Chile, and Venezuela are asking for time to evaluate and study the proposals, and opposition to the treaty has been registered by numerous NGOs and public interest advocates. Fearing a repeat of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), when US copyright law was made more strict to conform to WIPO standards, a coalition of U.S. NGOs is currently circulating a sign on letter calling for public hearings on the implications of the Broadcaster Treaty.

In a recent Financial Times article Professor James Boyle (Law, Duke University) [1] raised objections to the Broadcasting/Webcasting Treaty, saying “intellectual property laws are created without any empirical evidence that they are necessary, or that they will help rather than hurt”. He elaborated that such laws are made “as though it were just a deal brokered between industry groups,” and that concerns for “public interest in competition, access, free speech, and vigorous technological markets takes a back seat.” Professor Boyle fears that “communications networks are increasingly built around intellectual property rules” with harmful effects.

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