WIPO's Broadcast Treaty is back: copyright nuts want to steal the public domain, kill Creative Commons, and give copyright over your videos to YouTube and other streamers

One of the major projects I worked on at the Electronic Frontier Foundation was working to kill the World Intellectual Property Organization's "Broadcast Treaty," a treaty that would have given a new form of copyright to broadcasters. Under this proposal, the mere act of broadcasting audio or video would trigger a new right for the broadcaster to control all copies made from that broadcast. This right wouldn't be subject to the same fair use or fair dealing rules, and would cover works that were in the public domain. It would also give broadcasters the right to control copies of works where the actual creator has explicitly allowed copies to be made, such as Creative Commons works.

The treaty died just around the time I left EFF, and I like to think I had a small part in killing this treaty. As did you, if you were one of the thousands and thousands of Boing Boing and Slashdot readers who contacted your government, or wrote to WIPO in protest. There was plenty to speak out about, such as the handouts opposing the treaty being spirited away and hidden in the toilets, or the WIPO administration trying to lock public interest groups out of important related meetings.

But now, the Broadcast Treaty is back, and with a vengeance. The new WIPO Broadcast Treaty incorporates the two most controversial proposals from the original one.

First, "technology neutrality," which is WIPO-speak for "this applies to the Internet," which is to say, YouTube and Vimeo would get to control copies of all the works that they stream (as would Hulu and other streaming services), even CC-licensed works, even public domain works, even uses that would be fair use or fair dealing under copyright.

Second, "technical measures," which is WIPO-speak for DRM. This means that laws that make it illegal to break DRM that's used to restrict access to copyrighted works would be extended to DRM that's used to restrict the use of uncopyrighted, uncopyrightable, public domain works, as well as Creative Commons-licensed works (even though the CC licenses actually prohibit the use of DRM in connection with them).

EFF is on the scene, and Gwen Hinze and Richard Esguerra have written a great primer on the issues at hand. Be prepared for another long and vicious fight, gang -- and watch out, the broadcasters want to steal the public domain from you.

It's Back: WIPO Broadcasting Treaty Returns From The Grave


  1. ‘Round these parts, I probably count as a fan of copyright, since I think that the idea is reasonable, even if the current duration and enforcement schemes are onerous. But the broadcast treaty is EVIL. And we can expect more and stronger attempts to strongarm this into being because big media is finally getting it into their dinosaur brains that the channels of distribution, placed into their hands by the technology of the printing press, the radio/TV transmitters are being democratized by the internet. It’s bad enough when they attempt to secure dictatorial control over the internet to prevent the copying and distribution of works that they have paid the creators for the right to distribute. But that is not enough for them. They want to claim a fundamentally new right to anything that has passed over their network WITHOUT a prior agreement with the creator. Instead of having a toll booth at the entrance to the information super highway, they’re shaking down the creators of IP AFTER they’ve traveled down the road and putting a boot on their car.

  2. It feels like we’re stuck in a loop: I read a post in Boing-Boing about an over-reaching IP law, a few weeks later I read that it’s been abandoned and EFF is high-fiving everyone who supported them, then the law is slightly reworked and it’s back to Step 1. Eventually the bastards are going to wear us out and the laws are going to get through. (Maybe it’s better said, sometimes the laws get through and then the cycle repeats with even more ridiculous restrictions.)

    Shouldn’t the EFF be proactively pushing for legislation that says what our rights ARE, instead of always trying to stop others from saying what our rights ARE NOT? Or maybe I’m just naive in thinking this will make things easier, and this is part of “eternal vigilance”.

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised if the EFF has some slightly Madison-esque concerns about specific enumeration of rights; but I’d imagine that the real issue is simply one of power.

      Assuming that they don’t already have a document kicking around in their files somewhere, they’d probably be delighted to kick one out; but nothing short of becoming an unstable nuclear power would give them the clout to do much more than post it on their website. If the EFF and their civil-society allies can (sometimes) derail insane power grabs by incumbents, just imagine what sorts of derailing incumbents could do…

    2. Good call. We ought to be writing our own copyright legislation as creators and then pushing for it to become law, instead of fighting the army of corporate lawyers that are forever summoned by the giant media barons… who do I lobby? Where’s my “click here to save the day” button?

      1. Via smf:

        the law is slightly reworked and it’s back to Step 1. Eventually the bastards are going to wear us out and the laws are going to get through.

        I don’t think it’s back to Step 1, but I understand your frustration. I don’t think the bastards are going to wear us out… ever.

        Via Anon:

        who do I lobby? Where’s my “click here to save the day” button?

        This is a great time to strengthen the EFF with donations for its war chest if you can. Even the smallest amounts really add up. As long as there are resources (support from the public) the EFF isn’t going to ever wear out on important issues.


  3. What surprises me about all this is that it isn’t being taken out back and suffocated by pressure from the parties who already own the ‘real’ copyrights on the material likely to be broadcast.

    Were it simply some sort of “possessing a cracked cable box and/or satellite descrambler is now classified as a crime against humanity” treaty, I’d expect broad agreement among the powers that be. However, the proposal would seem to amount to a de novo creation of an overlapping new kind of pseudo-copyright that even the original copyright holder would have to deal with, assigned automatically to “broadcasters”. I would have expected that the present copyright holders would react very poorly to this invasion of their turf.

    Also curious: for a country with ANC leadership, ostensibly democratic socialist and concerned with redressing power imbalances and postcolonial issues, South Africa seems to have some, er, remarkably kleptocratic ideas concerning intellectual property. Anybody know the internal workings of that?

  4. The really big problem that these proceedings is so complicated to explain that most people get lost on the headline. It took Cory (who’s very eloquent) several paragraphs to write this up.

    Remember what Einstein said: If you can’t explain to you grandmother you don’t really understand it yourself. Could you?

    To gather big support for a counter campaign it would help if the problem could be explained short and simply and without sounding like you’re a conspiracy theorist.

    1. Remember what Einstein said: If you can’t explain to you grandmother you don’t really understand it yourself.

      I’ve heard a similar quote/paraphrase, attributed to Einstein, expressed as “If you can’t it explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

      Let’s hope that one of the quotes is incorrect; otherwise I’ll feel compelled to speculate that Einstein explained General Relativity to his six-year-old grandmother … ;)

      On a serious related note, Richard Feynman is said to have said something similar: “If you can’t explain it in Freshman lecture, you don’t really understand it.”

      Last related note, this excerpt from John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar:


      “This very distinguished philosophy professor came out on the platform in front of this gang of students and took a bit of chalk and scrawled up a proposition in symbolic logic on the board. He turned to the audience and said, ‘Well now, ladies and gentlemen, I think you’ll agree that that’s obvious?’

      “Then he looked at it a bit more and started to scratch his head and after a while he said, ‘Excuse me!’ And he disappeared.

      “About half an hour later he came back beaming all over his face and said triumphantly, ‘Yes, I was right – it is obvious!'”

  5. We need to stop reacting to every individual piece of freedom the WIPO’s of this world seek to take away from us. It’s pretty simple really:

    1. internet
    2. (digitial) civil liberties
    3. copyright

    — choose two (hint, not choosing will result in loss of #2)


  6. My interpretation is that it is an economical death struggle for quite a lot of rich influential people whose assets are no longer needed by the free market due to technological development starting an avalance of creative destruction.

    Creative destruction is fun and good for everybody else who gets new possibilities and better or cheaper products and services, its not as fun for the producers and operators of horse buggies, mechanical calculators or CD records.

    Another detail making this worse is that a lot of the US business seems to have gambled on changing from a production economy to a service economy with information services as a very large part of the economy. The problem is that the competition in information services is realy, realy, tough and much of this new economy is not needed for anything and thus it either dies or forces itself onto consumers. This problem might be large enough to treathen USA as a super power when they no longer can buy as much pysical goods with bits and bytes.

    Times are interesting and these problems provides us with a fairly benign opportunity for observing how our political institutions behave or misbehave before we get realy tough resource problems such as shrinking oil production.

  7. Evil spreads like fungus, and it always has.
    Maybe we need to take a page from the ultramarine playbook?
    Purge the unclean. With gratuitous amounts of fire.

  8. These sorts of bad legislation issues will forever plague those who support consumer’s rights. The EFF needs to win every time, while the Copyright cartels need to only win once.

    1. @MRKiscaden “The EFF needs to win every time, while the Copyright cartels need to only win once.” I read that to mean that the Copyright cartels are the equivalent of terrorists who hate us for our freedoms. That sounds about right.

      1. When one looks at these attempts to put forth draconian policies against the public, should the public wonder any more if the corporatists are their sworn enemy of the general public and it’s time to bring them down?

        It’s obvious the corporatists won’t be satisfied until every citizen is basically their caged pet. The question is, will the public roll over, beg, sit… ? or is it time to bite?

  9. This is the next step in the creation of such broad criminal liability that anyone the Powers-that-Be deem undesirable can be incarcerated and/or bankrupted on demand.

    Look at how these “laws” are being used in Russia/China/Belarus for instructive examples of their future application in America.

  10. @phisrow Indeed, that was one of the fracture lines that split the debate last time around.

    @smf Actually EFF does that kind of thing all the time, from backing various bills introduced by sympathetic congresspeople to joining legislative drafting committees at the fed and state level. They’ve also been part of norm-setting stuff (Adelphi Charter), helped write treaties (Limitations and Exceptions), and so forth.

    @coffeemoon I think the technical complexity really is the hardest hurdle here. One of the things about the earlier fight at WIPO was that the other side fought SO dirty (hiding documents in the toilets!) that it was easy to discuss the obvious procedural shortcomings without having to delve into the subtle technical issues.

  11. Grandmother explanation:

    You write a book and sell it to me. I then go on and give the book to someone else. Because I did that, I can tell that someone else what they can do with the book. And I can go tell people what to do with the books they bought from *you*. Really ridiculous things like “no one can read the book to their kids without paying me first”.

    How’s that?

  12. This is already happening with other media. I had uploaded some photos to Yahoo! a long time ago, and Yahoo! Photos has since been turned over to Flickr. My originals no longer exist due to a fire, so when I went to Flickr, I found they had been copyrighted by Flickr and I could not download them or do anything with them whatsoever but look at them. Flickr, however, is free to profit off my work as much as they like. How is uploading a photo of myself to a different network giving up ownership of my photos? What if I still had the originals? Would I be sued by Flickr if I used it them a commercial enterprise? If anybody knows for certain, please enlighten me. As things stand, I feel that I have been a victim of theft.

  13. “…copyright nuts want to steal the public domain, kill Creative Commons, and give copyright over your videos to YouTube and other streamers…”; kill your father, rape and murder your sister, burn your ranch, shoot your dog and steal your Bible!

    1. You left out “drink your liquor”, that ought to be in there somewhere too.

      Boy that’s evil!

  14. ” would trigger a new right for the broadcaster to control all copies made from that broadcast”

    It seems like this is pretty key. It doesn’t give broadcasters the right to the original materials, just copies of their broadcasts. Still not ideal maybe, but not quite as nefarious as it may seem at first glance.

  15. i m sick of fighting these idiots. its like arguing with a bunch of drunk pensioners. what the hell are they on about? their ideas are outlandish and outdated. people should stop listening to these schmucks!

    we have more important things to think about and vote on than backwards ideologies.

  16. About six seconds after this becomes reality, the i’net operators will declare themselves to be ‘broadcasters, and will own everything posted on the net. FB and others already claim to own everything posted on their sites.

  17. I’ll admit I’m confused about some of this, especially the jargon.

    Are you saying that “We said (broadcasted) it first, therefore we own it?”

    Why not label as many people as you can as “broadcasters”? Do you know how many religious entities that are also broadcasting companies?

    But, what I’m most confused about is the difference between “licence” and “copyright”.

    Wikipedia has an excellent list of countries that have/have had/or never had radio/broadcasting/television licensing:


    Could we search for the people/organizations that fought against radio/television licensing and invite them into the war room?

    The United States is one of the countries that has never had television/broadcasting licensing. But I did find a familiar sentence – “Another substitute for TV licenses comes through cable franchise agreements”.

    Internet broadcasting is the next savory piece in this huge pie of communication, and everyone want’s the largest piece of that slice.

  18. @Anon 20 – and how would you be able to tell a broadcast from the original? How about a “broadcast” of a media file that is 100% identical to the original?

    I didn’t upload almost 2000 public-domain-license photographs to Wikimedia Commons to have ANYONE claim copyright to them. Donating to the EFF right now.

  19. we have to be lucky all the time…

    they just need to be lucky once…


  20. New business model –

    1) “Broadcast” everything on the internet.
    2) Sue everyone who has deep pockets
    3) Only the lawyers profit

    Kinda reminds me of software patents.

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