WIPO Members Agree to Advance Treaties For Broadcasting Organizations, Visually Impaired

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GENEVA--Members of the World Intellectual Property Organization ended a ten-day meeting by agreeing on steps to advance two long-delayed negotiations on the protection of broadcasting organizations as well as an international legal instrument setting out copyright exceptions for the visually impaired.

Broadcast Treaty Draft Eyed.

WIPO’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights wrapped up its talks in Geneva late July 25 with a commitment to continue negotiations on a broadcast treaty, which has been under discussion since November 1998.

WIPO members achieved their objective of reaching an agreement on a single draft negotiating text consolidating key elements of proposals put forward by member governments. That text, put forward by SCCR Cairman and Zambian Ambassador Darlington Mwape, was accepted by the committee as the basis for further negotiation.

The SCCR also signaled its desire to accelerate the talks by requesting a mandate from WIPO’s General Assembly to continue negotiations with the aim of reaching a decision on whether to convene a diplomatic conference in 2014 to adopt a final treaty.

While the SCCR gave no date for deciding on the diplomatic conference, officials following the talks told BNA that any such decision would have to be made no later that WIPO’s General Assembly meeting in the fall of 2013.

The agreement on a single negotiating text does not hide the fact that significant differences continue to exist on the content of the proposed treaty.

Signal-Based Approach Favored.

The SCCR reaffirmed its commitment to “continue work, on a signal based approach, consistent with the 2007 General Assembly mandate towards developing an international treaty to update the protection of broadcasting and cablecasting organizations in the traditional sense.”

The United States and a number of major developing countries--especially India--want a narrower signal-based treaty focusing exclusively on preventing signal piracy but without granting any substantive new rights to broadcasters. On the other hand, African countries have been pushing for a treaty granting exclusive rights and post-fixation rights to broadcasters, as well as broader technical-protection measures.

Officials following the talks said that there were no substantive narrowing of differences on the content of the broadcast treaty at the July 16-25 SCCR meeting. The single draft text still contains various options for addressing key issues such as the scope of the agreement and the beneficiaries of the agreement.

India insisted at the meeting that some of its proposals for treaty language be highlighted in the main body of the text rather than as footnotes. Among those are proposals from India limiting the scope of the treaty to broadcasts on “traditional” broadcasting and cablecasting media and excluding the transmission of broadcast signals over computer networks.

At the next meeting of the SCCR in November, members “have to get down to the hard work of going over the text article by article trying to narrow differences and come up with texts,” one official said following the talks.

Rights Group Critical.

Thiru Balasubramaniam, Geneva representative for the activist group Knowledge Ecology International, was critical of the discussions on the broadcast treaty.

The draft negotiating text “was really thrown together on the fly this week, and makes almost no sense, since it contains parts of at least three very different approaches,” Balasubramaniam argued. “No one can explain the problem it is supposed to solve, or how the treaty solves that problem.”

Progress on Visually Impaired Exceptions.

WIPO members also agreed at the SCCR meeting to decide later this year on whether to convene a diplomatic conference to adopt a new treaty or instrument setting out copyright exceptions for the visually impaired and those with print disabilities.

The SCCR noted that “substantial progress” had been made on the main provisions of the draft but that further work remains to be done. It added that the committee is “committed to resolution of outstanding questions” at its next session scheduled for Nov. 19-23.

To ensure this, the SCCR agreed that a special inter-sessional meeting of the committee would take place in Geneva between WIPO’s Oct. 1-9 General Assembly meeting and the SCCR’s regular meeting in November. The November SCCR meeting would then seek to “conclude or advance substantially” the draft text.

WIPO’s General Assembly would follow by scheduling an extraordinary session in December to review the draft text and to decide whether to convene a diplomatic conference in 2013.

Brazil, Ecuador, and Paraguay put forward a proposal in May 2009, backing an initiative from the World Blind Union calling for a treaty that would create exceptions and limitations with regard to copyright protections in order to benefit the visually impaired, such as with regard to creation of audio versions of digitized books.

United States, EU Viewed as Obstacles.

Representatives from the WBU and other non-governmental groups who had hoped the SCCR meeting would endorse a diplomatic conference next year expressed disappointment with the outcome, and blamed the United States and the European Union for bowing to pressure from their large publishing groups and blocking progress.

“It’s less than what we hoped for and expected,” according to Christopher Friend, program development advisor for the international charity Sightsavers.

One of the key outstanding issues is the legal form that an eventual agreement would take. Most WIPO members favor a legally binding international treaty, but the United States continues to call for “soft law” options such as WIPO recommendations that would fall short of a formal treaty.

Friend and other NGOs accused the EU of loading the draft text with “poison pill” proposals setting out numerous restrictions on the proposed copyright exceptions.

“Europe put so many amendments that would make the treaty unworkable,” he said. “We now have more bracketed text and unfinished work than we had at the start of week.”

Publishers' Concerns.

James Love of KEI said that large publishing groups in the United States and the EU feared a treaty on exceptions for the visually impaired could set a precedent which could be used to negotiate copyright exceptions for other important sectors. He said that the Obama administration is in favor of having the issue postponed until after the fall elections in order not to antagonize the publishers.

“They think that if they let a treaty go through, there will be new treaties on copyright exceptions for libraries and educational institutions which could ruin their revenue streams,” Love said.

The International Publishers Association, which represents publishing groups in more than 50 countries, earlier expressed “grave concerns” about expanding copyright exceptions to persons with reading disabilities.

Copyright exceptions “do not address the key obstacles to access,” which are the costs of re-formatting works for the visually impaired, the IPA argued. Furthermore, a copyright exception “carries a large risk for the authors and publishers” since electronic formats for the visually impaired are “most susceptible to abuse and piracy.”

One Latin American negotiator said it was hoped a diplomatic conference would put pressure on the United States and the European Union to bend their positions and agree to a substantive treaty. Another official said it appeared the United States as well as the publishing groups were already shifting their positions and becoming more receptive to the idea of a legally binding treaty.

By Daniel Pruzin