If a lot of the talk about the WIPO broadcast treaty seems abstract to you, here's an example that's close to home, and all too real.
You may have heard of the controversy surrounding Spocko and KSFO. Spocko is a blogger who was criticizing the content and tone of a morning program on KSFO. In order to call attention to the radio show's vitriol, Spocko wrote the show's advertisers, including in his complaints links to his blog, where he had posted audio clips of the show. USA Today has a summary of the story here, and EFF, which has been involved in the issue, talks about it here.
KSFO's parent company then sent Spocko a “cease and desist” letter, claiming copyright violations and demanding that Spocko take down the audio clips. Of course, what Spocko was doing was classic fair use–taking portions of another's copyrighted works for the purpose of comment and criticism. There's no chance whatsoever that ABC could win an infringement suit in court.
At least, not now, not under copyright law. That's because the doctrine of fair use has been codified in US law.
Under the sort of broadcast treaty that's being debated in WIPO right now, however, ABC and KSFO might well have the legal right to shut Spocko down. That's because the treaty grants broadcasters the right to control their signals and recordings of their signals regardless of any rights in copyright. Nor would the treaty require fair use.
The various versions of the treaty often include provisions that allow countries to grant “exceptions and limitations” to the rights, but there's no guarantee that any country must do this, or even that values as basic as free speech, criticism, or fair use must be built in to the exceptions and limitations. Broadcasters pushing for the treaty say that including mandatory exceptions and limitations could weaken the treaty's effectiveness. If that's the price of free speech, then that's a risk I'm willing to take.