Jamie Boyle's latest Financial Times column covers the Webcasting provisions of the new Broadcast Treaty at the World Intellectual Property Organization. Under these provisions, the mere act of converting A/V content to packets would confer a 50-year monopoly over the underlying work to ISPs. That means that if you release a Creative-Commons-licensed Flash movie that encourages people to share it (say, because you get money every time someone sees the ads in it), the web-hosting companies that offer it to the world can trump your wishes, break your business and sue anyone who shares a copy they get from them. This is a way of taking away creator's rights and giving them to companies like Microsoft and Yahoo, whose representative at WIPO has aggressively pushed to have this included in the treaty. It's bad enought that this stuff is going to crap up broadcasting, but they should leave the Web alone (I brought a letter signed by 20 webcasters to WIPO asking for just this).
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.
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