December 23, 1996 1:30 PM PST

Geneva treaty wins over skeptics

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Copies of the international copyright treaties signed Friday in Geneva filtered into the United States today, winning praise from industry skeptics who had been reluctant to comment until seeing the agreements in print.

The treaties were created to address copyright protection for digital intellectual property. Two out of the three proposed treaties were adopted at the World Intellectual Property Organization's Diplomatic Conference (WIPO), which ran from December 2 to December 20.

Even after hearing that the heavily disputed Article 7 in Treaty I was deleted, many opponents were reluctant to comment late Friday because they hadn't seen the final wording of the treaty. The provision would have made Internet service providers and telephone carriers liable for copyright infringements that occur over their services, even if they were unaware of the violations.

Peter Fowler, attorney-adviser for the Office of Legislation and International Affairs of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, said accompanying the treaty is a summary statement that reiterates that the principles and standards of the 19th century Berne Convention apply to the digital environment--putting the liability on the violator.

Final versions of the treaties were supposed to be on the WIPO Web site, but as of this morning, only draft copies were online.

Some groups that adamantly opposed provisions in the treaties, such as the Ad Hoc Copyright Coalition and the American Library Association, have been reviewing final language today and say the written treaties confirm the promises that were made on Friday.

"We were very pleased that they removed Article 7 which we think would have had a chilling effect across the Internet and the future of commerce," said MCI spokesman Marc Brailov. MCI is a member of the Ad Hoc coalition, which represents Internet service providers, software developers, and telecommunications companies.

"There is still implementation legislation that we need to watch very closely and see how that develops and make sure the balance we achieved by removing Article 7 is maintained," he said.

Another provision that fueled debate was former Article 13 of Treaty I. The article would have made it illegal to import, manufacture, or distribute copyright protection-defeating devices. The article now permits individual governments to create remedies against technology that is used to illegally break copyrights.

Seth Greenstein, an attorney for the Electronic Industries Association and an observer of the proceedings, said the United States already has laws that satisfy WIPO's requirement. He hopes Congress doesn't try to create a new "one-size-fits-all" law to address the treaty provision.

Congress is expected to ratify both treaties next year.

Treaty I protects digital literature and artistic work under current international law. Treaty II applies copyright protection to digital music or sounds. Prior to the treaty's passage, the only international copyright standards for audio that could have applied to cyberspace were not approved by the United States.

Treaty III, dubbed the sui generis database treaty, was abandoned. It was strongly opposed by industry groups because it would have allowed groups such as the NBA and Lexis-Nexis to copyright information in their databases.

Prue Adler, assistant executive director of Federal Relations and Information Policy Association of Research Libraries, said she thinks many U.S. interests were taken into consideration. "[This] is much more balanced that the original proposal because it clearly recognizes the rights of users in addition to owners' rights in cyberspace."

 

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