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Broadcast treaty needs sounding out, says WIPO

Tech companies breathe sigh of relief...for now

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A controversial broadcast copyright treaty opposed by podcasters and internet broadcasters has been dealt a blow by the General Assembly of the body behind it.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation's (WIPO) ruling body, the General Assembly, has rejected a proposal by a copyright committee to send the proposal straight to a conference to be finalised. The proposal must be approved by two more meetings before it can be the subject of an approving diplomatic conference, the General Assembly ruled.

If passed as it currently stands the treaty would create brand new intellectual property (IP) rights in television broadcasts. Designed to prevent the international pirating of TV signals, it has attracted the ire of internet broadcasters who say that it extends WIPO regulation to the internet. WIPO says a new treaty is needed to replace the currently active decades-old one, the 1961 Rome Convention.

The copyright committee of WIPO, the Standing Committee on Copyrights and Related Rights, had proposed that the treaty progress straight to a diplomatic conference next summer, which would be the forum for its adoption by WIPO.

The Assembly, though, noted that there was not a significant enough consensus among member states and said the treaty must be the subject of two meetings in 2007 to attempt to achieve consensus. India, the US and Brazil had objected to the treaty being progressed immediately to a conference.

"A diplomatic conference is now contingent upon member states reaching consensus where there are currently great differences such as the inclusion of anti-circumvention measures in the treaty and outlawing internet retransmissions of programs," said Robin Gross, executive director of IP Justice, a civil liberties IP law pressure group which addressed the General Assembly.

"While proponents of the Broadcast Treaty hail this as a victory, since a diplomatic conference may still be convened next year, the General Assembly's refusal to rubber-stamp the decision of the SCCR Chairman is the real victory at WIPO," said Gross.

The proposed treaty creates a new right in the content of broadcasts for broadcasters, even if the creator of the content is a third party. Some content creators and legal experts have warned that this means creators will not be permanently in control of content to which they currently have the principal rights.

"This is a right just for transmitting something, and it exists on top of the existing copyright [in the broadcast]," Rufus Pollock, a director of the Open Knowledge Foundation and a member of the board of the Open Rights Group, told OUT-LAW in June.

"You retain the copyright in your material," said James Boyle at the time. Boyle is a law professor at Duke law School in North Carolina and founder of the Centre for the Study of the Public Domain. "I, the broadcaster, get a right over any copy or retransmission of my broadcast (which contains your material). Thus, if someone copied your movie from my broadcast they could infringe both sets of rights."

The proposed treaty has also been opposed by a coalition of technology companies, including Dell, HP, AT&T, Sony and others. "Creating broad new intellectual property rights in order to protect broadcast signals is misguided and unnecessary and risks serious unintended negative consequences," says a protest document signed by the technology companies in a campaign co-ordinated by digital rights activist group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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