September 5, 2006 5:34 PM PDT

Copyright treaty draws tech industry criticism

ALEXANDRIA, Va.--An online culture built around user-generated content on Web sites like YouTube and MySpace would be imperiled by a new treaty, public interest groups and some technology companies said Tuesday.

At issue is a treaty called "Protection of the Rights of Broadcasting Organizations," which proponents say is necessary to ensure that TV and cable broadcasters--and now, their Web-based counterparts--have the tools to combat unauthorized retransmission of their signals. The World Intellectual Property Organization, or WIPO, a specialized arm of the United Nations, gave the go-ahead in 2003 to begin drafting the treaty, but a final version is still pending.

Opponents say the treaty would go far beyond targeting so-called "signal piracy." They warn that it would give broadcasters and Webcasters exclusive, 50-year rights to authorize rebroadcasting of their signals, would create additional legal hoops for the average Internet user to jump through, and could shrink existing protections in U.S. law for public domain works and other instances of fair use.

With the latest draft of the document (click for PDF) scheduled for consideration at a meeting in Geneva next week, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office hosted a roundtable discussion here in Alexandria, Va., to allow for public comment.

A loose coalition of 35 companies and organizations, which are often at odds with each other on other topics, joined together to sign a statement of opposition (click for PDF), which was distributed at the two-hour event. The signatories included Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, AT&T, Verizon Communications, Sony and TiVo, as well as the American Library Association, the Broadband Service Providers Association, the Home Recording Rights Coalition and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Although their individual positions varied, the document's signers generally argued that the broadcast and Webcast lobby--backed by Yahoo and other members of the Digital Media Association--have not made a strong enough case for the new treaty. If theft of signals is truly the primary worry, they said, then existing U.S. laws likely offer sufficient protections, or a more narrowly tailored proposal could be drafted.

But as it stands, the proposal would trample on the legal rights consumers currently enjoy, such as recording TV broadcasts for later viewing and playing them back within their homes, some opponents argued.

The proposal also embraces the legality of technological protection measures, which means there would be nothing to stop controversial copy-prevention regimes like the broadcast flag, designed to prevent digital TV piracy, from being implemented, said Electronic Frontier Foundation International Affairs Director Gwen Hinze. Such mandates "increase design costs, which are passed on to consumers, and reduce the feature set available to consumers," Hinze said.

The proposal "would enable 'casters to gain very unprecedented control in the home and personal network environment, which would interfere with the rollout of broadband and home networking services (and) new and innovative devices that allow users to use content in new and flexible ways," said Michael Petricone, senior vice president for government affairs for the Consumer Electronics Association.

Seth Greenstein, a partner at the Washington D.C. law office of Constantine Cannon who serves as outside counsel to the Digital Media Association, said that's not the intention of treaty supporters.

"What we have always intended to be the scope of coverage is Internet Webcasting that is like broadcasting, not individual files, songs, audio or video clips made on individual Web sites, but rather programming that is scheduled," Greenstein said.

He said he believed that the latest U.S.-offered definition of Netcasting (click for PDF) satisfies that aim.

Jule Sigall, the U.S. Copyright Office official who led the roundtable, said the most recent language, released earlier this summer, is "very much a step towards something else" and that next week's meetings of WIPO's Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights will present "a very fluid situation" in which much could change.

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5 comments

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Do you hear that?
Its the sound of India, and China wooooshing past us as we spend ridiculous time, money and effort trying to protect copyright content which is ultimately "un-protectable"

I am not saying that all copyright (and patents) are bad, but you have to consider fair use. Specifically the snowballing of everyone's ideas to produce greater outcomes...sadly this will end and our innovation edge with it. Now go hug a lawyer ;)
Posted by LarryLo (164 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The big swirl...
No,that was the earlier sonic boom. What you hear now is the giant sucking sound as dozens of DRM efforts and millions of consumer dollars go down the drain without causing a blip on the screens of casual "pirates" worldwide. (Let's leave alone the idea that user level DRM actually benefits the for profit pirates because as casual users are unable to manipulate content, the cheap bootlegs gain value in the eyes of those unwilling to purchase/re-purchase content at retail.)
Not one single protected work has ever been prevented from sharing by DRM. (OK, I'm dramatizing, I don't have the facts to prove that.) But millions of paying consumers have lost thier fair-use rights, as well as faith in the content companies. (Sony rootkit!)
The only ones not hurt by this: those to get all their content from free internet sharing. Everyone else pays the costs of implementing DRM, the cost of keeping hardware/software current, and the costs of decreased usablility in the media they purchase.
It's enought to make me want to steal something.
Posted by skeptik (590 comments )
Link Flag
To industry: Take control!
I am tired of the Industry using lobbyists to try and patch a broken system (digital copyright enforcement) using laws. What they should do if they are really serious is the following:

1) Stop releasing content on existing media like CDs and DVDs. They can be copied.
2) Stop broadcasting their content on TV and radio. They can be recorded.
3) Create 100% copy-protected proprietary media with 100% industry-controlled manufacturing of both the media and players.
4) Create a 100% industry-controlled proprietary broadcasting technology where equipment for recording, transmitting and receiving is 100% manufactured by the industry.

Then they will have their dream world and be in control of what their customers can do with their licensed intellectual property.

Because: the consumer electronics manufacturers care for their customers, and they are not the content providers, but the content consumers. And if that means allowing stuff to be copied, then so be it.

Will the industry take this advice? No, because they actually make oodles of money from the current technologies, despite the crocodile tears shed over those who leech on the paying customers by using illegal downloads. Hence the lobbying because it's cheaper to buy a politican (hi, Orrin Hatch) than to gain the technological control they really want.
Posted by JadedGamer (207 comments )
Reply Link Flag
To industry: Take control!
I am tired of the Industry using lobbyists to try and patch a broken system (digital copyright enforcement) using laws. What they should do if they are really serious is the following:

1) Stop releasing content on existing media like CDs and DVDs. They can be copied.
2) Stop broadcasting their content on TV and radio. They can be recorded.
3) Create 100% copy-protected proprietary media with 100% industry-controlled manufacturing of both the media and players.
4) Create a 100% industry-controlled proprietary broadcasting technology where equipment for recording, transmitting and receiving is 100% manufactured by the industry.

Then they will have their dream world and be in control of what their customers can do with their licensed intellectual property.

Because: the consumer electronics manufacturers care for their customers, and they are not the content providers, but the content consumers. And if that means allowing stuff to be copied, then so be it.

Will the industry take this advice? No, because they actually make oodles of money from the current technologies, despite the crocodile tears shed over those who leech on the paying customers by using illegal downloads. Hence the lobbying because it's cheaper to buy a politican (hi, Orrin Hatch) than to gain the technological control they really want.
Posted by JadedGamer (207 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Any new copyright rextrictions should require registration
Any new copyright rextrictions should require registration of protected works.

The Berne convention treaty requires no registration for getting copyright protection. So we are stuck with this stupid idea. But there's no reason to extend that to new kind of "protection" in new treaties. These should only apply to particular protected items whose "owners" have explicitly requested their protection and made that request public by registering it in a publicly accessible repository.

And then: the Berne convention treaty itself should be updated: this is the 21st cetury, not the 19th century. Registering a work for protection can be made as easy as submitting an online form (and perhaps attaching a file) and the iinfo about which works are protected can be easily made accessible online. It does not require a horseback ride to a capital city to register a new work or to manually browse the records of registered works to find out their copyright status.
Posted by hadaso (468 comments )
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