Broadcasting treaty is closer to becoming law

A controversial treaty on broadcasting rights came one stop closer to becoming international law last week. The treaty, which is opposed by civil liberties groups and new media advocates, will be discussed next July at a diplomatic conference.

A committee of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) approved the conference as the medium to finalise a version of the treaty that will become law. The proposal is WIPO's Treaty on the Protection of Broadcasts and Broadcasting Organisations and it creates a new class of IP rights designed to protect broadcasters from the theft of their TV signals.

A coalition of major technology companies including Dell, HP, Sony and AT&T oppose the Treaty, as do many podcasters, web broadcasters and digital rights activists. They claim that the Treaty would give broadcasters too many intellectual property rights over content.

The Treaty is designed to update WIPO's 1961 Rome Convention on broadcasting and it is hoped that it will combat international signal theft, where television from one country is broadcast into another. Those opposing the treaty argue that it creates yet more IP rights and hinders the ability of new media producers to control their rights over content.

The WIPO Standing Committee on Copyrights and Related Rights has passed the treaty and allowed it to proceed to a diplomatic conference. Scheduled for July 2007, the conference must first be called by the WIPO General Assembly in late September.

The major Silicon Valley names behind the protests against the treaty produced a document outlining their objections earlier this month. "Creating broad new intellectual property rights in order to protect broadcast signals is misguided and unnecessary and risks serious unintended negative consequences," says the document. The protest is being co-ordinated by digital rights activist group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Podcasters and webcasters feel that the treaty could give broadcasters rights over their content. They claim to have had reassurances from WIPO that it would not try to regulate them as it does television but come up with separate rules to cover new media.

Dean Whitbread is the chairman of the UK Podcasters' Association. "We don't mind regulation, we just want it to be reasonable," Whitbread previously told OUT-LAW. "Podcasting and broadcasting are not the same. I don't think as podcasters we should be subject to the same legislation."