The WIPO Broadcasting Treaty (officially, the WIPO Treaty on the Protection of Broadcasting Organizations) is a proposal within the World Intellectual Property Organization to give broadcasters intellectual property rights in their signals, in addition to the copyrights held by the creators of the works.
Public Knowledge's Position
Public Knowledge opposes the treaty, as it would create numerous conflicts with existing copyright law and policy in the US, as well as creating an additional hurdle for any users of broadcast content.
Not only does the treaty grant a property right to broadcasters never before recognized by US law, it also threatens the rights that both creators and consumers have had in their uses of copyrighted works. The treaty would give broadcasters the ability to prevent even copyright holders from accessing and using broadcasts made of their own works.
Here are some of the major problems with the rights-based treaty:
- No Demonstrated Need for the Treaty. Signal theft, the supposed reason for the treaty, can be addressed by signing a treaty that simply prohibits intentional misappropriation and theft of broadcasters' signals. Such a treaty would be consistent with US law, unlike the treaty's current creation of a property right never before recognized within domestic copyright law. Furthermore, the US broadcast industry is one of the most robust in the world, belying the claim that broadcasters need more exclusive rights.
- The Treaty is Inconsistent with US Law . The treaty would upset the balance struck by existing US laws by imposing a property rights regime that was developed for a different copyright system. If the US delegation signs the broadcast treaty, they will have bound the US to laws that elected lawmakers have rejected in the past.
- Rights of Copyright Owners will be Harmed. Broadcasters often do not own the content they distribute. The television shows and movies that are broadcast are owned by those who produce them - copyright owners. Today, in order to use a copyrighted work, users only need permission from the copyright owner. Giving broadcasters a 50-year exclusive right in the content they broadcast would force users to acquire permission and/or licenses from broadcasters in addition to copyright owners. This would seriously diminish the rights of copyright owners.
- Consumers will Face New Liability for Legal Uses. While the treaty allows countries to grant fair use rights to consumers, the default language of the treaty would let broadcasters prohibit consumers from using broadcast content, even if the uses were perfectly legal under copyright law. Broadcasters could even claim a right in their broadcasts of works that have already entered the public domain.
- Broadcasters Could Gain a Perpetual Right in Broadcasts. The treaty states that broadcasters would have a property right in a broadcast for 50 years. However, the treaty does not specify whether that 50-year term runs only from the first time a program is broadcast, or any time the program is broadcast. This could lead to the property right lasting indefinitely.
- Inclusion of Webcasting will Stifle the Flow of Information on the Internet. Under the proposed definition of webcasting, just about anyone who streams video and audio over the Internet could be considered a webcaster. Thus, this provision would be a recipe for litigation and chaos, and would ultimately stifle the free flow of information on the Internet.
- ISP Liability Will be Greatly Increased. The draft treaty provisions raise the possibility that intermediaries such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and search engines will be held liable for their customers' infringing acts.
- Mandatory Technological Protection Measures (TPM) Will Erode Consumer Rights. The draft treaty also contains a provision that requires governments to protect technological protection measures (TPMs) incorporated into broadcast signals. This will open the door to regulations like the broadcast flag, in which government requires all consumer electronics and computer devices to be compatible with the TPM.
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For more information
- Read about The Broadcast Treaty vs. Broadcast Law  by Senior Staff Attorney John Bergmayer
- Read more about conflicts  between the treaty and American media policy
- Read the joint statement  we filed along with 28 other civil society and industry groups against the treaty
- Read James Boyle's piece in the Financial Times "More rights are wrong for webcasters "