September 14, 2006 · Posted in: The Internet
A U.S.-led initiative at the United Nations to force the world’s governments to give broadcasters a new right — the right to control the use of works they don’t own — is causing a stir on the Internet, particularly among podcasters.
The Broadcast Treaty (download here), now being crafted at the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) office in Geneva, will allow broadcasters to stop anyone from copying or re-using the programs they transmit, even if those programs are in the public domain, Creative Commons licensed or composed of uncopyrightable facts.
Microsoft and Yahoo! are reportedly behind the proposal to extend this new broadcasting right to the Internet. The provision, if applied to webcasting, would mean that if someone got a copy of a work over the air or over the Web that copyright would allow him or her to use (because it was in the public domain, because it was factual, or even because the creator had granted you permission), he or she would still need to seek permission from the “caster.”
Under the treaty, the broadcaster would get a 50-year monopoly over the re-use of copies of the works it transmitted.
“This is deadly to podcasters,” said Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing. “The webcasting right will break podcasters’ ability to quote and re-use each others’ work (even CC-licensed works), and other video found on the net. It will allow podcast-hosting companies like Yahoo! to tell people how they can use your podcasts, even if you want to permit retransmissions. And it will hurt organizations that are tying to find novel ways to use podcasts.”
Doctorow added that webcasting is being “narrowed” to apply only to “professional” webcasts and not podcasts, which she said is a short-sighted view of the future of podcasting — a term coined less than two years ago.
The webcasting provision has reportedly kept sneaking back into the treaty despite protests from artists and major governments. This new webcasting right could put YouTube, Google Video, and innovative podcaster services out of business, by banning or restricting the way that these companies re-use each others’ materials.
Such a proposal has already prompted a diverse coalition of public interest groups, industry associations, and corporations to sign an open letter to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejecting the Broadcast Treaty, claiming it could do untold harm to artists, technology and telecommunications companies, scholars, and people with disabilities.
Also rejecting the “webcasting right” are Mark Cuban, founder of Yahoo!’s Broadcast.com and team owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has also written an open letter on behalf of podcasters everywhere.
Calling podcasters the Internet’s native creators, the EFF challenged the WIPO to make treaties that protect creators. “WIPO has no business trying to break the Internet so that it is better-suited to the business-models of yesterday’s broadcasters.“