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September 27, 2005
More Rights Are Wrong for Webcasters
James Boyle in the Financial Times, on the below-the-radar negotations at WIPO that could swallow the public domain, bones and all:
Read the whole thing
The Broadcasting and Webcasting Treaty, currently being debated in Geneva, is an IP hat trick.
Much of what is broadcast over the airwaves is copyrighted – the broadcaster licenses the film or song from a copyright holder and then plays it to you at home. What you probably do not know is that nearly 50 years ago broadcasters in some countries got an additional right, layered on top of the copyright. Even if the material being broadcast was in the public domain, or the copyright holder had no objection to redistribution, the broadcaster was given a legal right to prevent it – a 20-year period of exclusivity. The ostensible reason was to encourage broadcasters to invest in new networks. The US did not sign this treaty. Has the US broadcast industry stagnated, crippled by the possibility that their signals will be pirated? Hardly. Copyright works well and no additional right has proved necessary. Has WIPO commissioned empirical studies to see if the right was necessary, comparing those nations that adopted it with those that did not? Of course not. This is intellectual property policy: we do not need facts. We can create monopolies on faith.
But now a new diplomatic conference is being convened to reopen the issue. Doubtless the goal is to abolish this right? There was never any empirical evidence behind it. Broadcasters in countries that did not adopt it have flourished, albeit casting envious eyes to the legal monopolies possessed by their counterparts in more credulous nations whose politicians are more deeply in the pockets of broadcasting interests. The right imposes considerable costs. It adds yet another layer of clearances that must be gained before material can be digitised or redistributed – compounding the existing problems of “orphan works”, those whose owners cannot be identified. So is the broadcast right on the way out? No.
In the funhouse world that is intellectual property policy, WIPO is considering a proposal to expand the length of the right by 30 years and a US-backed initiative to apply it to webcasts as well. After all, we know that the internet is growing so slowly. Clearly what is needed is an entirely new legal monopoly, on top of copyright, so that there are even more middlemen, even deeper thickets of rights.
Previous Copyfight coverage: One IP Right to Rule Them All and More on the Stealth Push for Webcaster's Pseudo Copyrights
EFF alert: Don't Let Congress Ignore the Broadcast Treaty!
In related news, here's the story of a similar scenario playing out on Capitol Hill. Specifically, the MPAA and RIAA are moving to sneak Broadcast Flag-like provisions in a reconciliations bill -- the better to avoid any public debate or protest:
One especially sneaky way to get an amendment passed is to smuggle it into a reconciliations bill. Reconciliation is the mirror image of appropriations. Appropriations is about taxes; reconciliation is all about making cuts. Because Congress dearly loves to appear thrifty, reconciliations has special fast-track status. It can't be filibustered, it's almost impossible to amend once agreed upon, and it only needs a plain majority to pass.
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