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WIPO and the Global Consolidation of Rights in Audiovisual Works

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Geneva: This is the third and last day of a World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) meeting, where negotiations are taking place of a new global treaty for broadcasting and cable-casting organizations.

As described yesterday and in some previous Huffpo articles (Nov05, May06 Aug06),
this UN agency is proposing a new global legal regime that would give companies that distribute information exclusive rights to prevent people from re-using it, even when the information is in the public domain, or owned by someone else. This would be a "related" right, and co-exist with other rights that might exist, such as copyright. It would be an additional permission that one would have to obtain before information could be copied, republished, remixed or re-used in other ways. In some versions of the treaty, the distributor would also obtain some rights to republish the works in competition with the original copyright owner (post fixation re-distribution rights), plus many other rights in the uses and re-uses of the content.

The debate over the treaty has been going on for years, but there is a big push to have a diplomatic conference later this year, maybe in November or December, and produce a final treaty.

The critics of the treaty, including our group are appalled at the treaty proposals and the way the negotiations are being conducted.

What's wrong with the treaty?

The most obvious issue is that the treaty calls for a new thicket of rights that make it hard to use or reuse information, or even to freely distribute your own works. You not only have to deal with the "owner" of the copyright in works, but also the "owner" of the broadcaster or cablecaster right, if you obtained your copy from them. This makes it more difficult, risky and expensive to copy, republish, remix or reuse works, for any purpose. This is a bad idea in general, but an insane idea at the very moment when we are witnessing such an explosion of new ways of creating, using, sharing and re-purposing information. No one even understands what the next technologies can do, or how social communities or new business models will change things.

The next most important aspect concerns the way the treaty will consolidate intellectual property rights in content, globally. Everything in this treaty is in theory based upon sections of the 1961 Rome Convention concerning the protection of broadcasting organizations. That treaty created some of these types of rights, for television and radio stations. About 80 countries have joined the Rome. The United States and about 80 other countries have not. Until recently, no one much paid attention to the treaty, in part because people were not copying much content from over the air analogue radio and television, and the US never even signed the treaty. For countries that did sign the treaty, it was something that gave some more money to local broadcasters, which under most national laws, could not be foreign owned.

The new treaty seeks to expand the treaty to at least all cable, satellite and multichannel digital television and radio broadcasts, and there are proposals to include Internet broadcasting platforms also. The treaty also would give the new rights not to the company that simply transmits information to a home, such as local cable providers, but to the firm that assembles and schedules the content. What this means in practice is that the treaty gives the new property rights to the companies that own "channels." It turns out that this is a highly concentrated market -- a handful of giant corporations own and control most of the channels that you find on today's new cable and satellite television networks, and will likely also dominate the new over the air digital television offerings.

Under the treaty, the big winners in the treaty will be companies like Paramount-CBS, Viacom, Comcast, Vivendi Universal, Bertelsmann AG, General Electric, Time-Warner, the Walt Disney Company, News Corp., Liberty Media, Viacom, who own dozens and dozens of leading "channels" of video programming.

Most of the negotiations on the treaty have been held in secret. Now we are drawing to an end, and there are big differences in the views of delegates, and lots of reasons to be worried about the process issues. The WIPO Secretariat clearly wants the Finnish Chair Jukka Liedes to control as much of the drafting between now the next meeting. Most of what was "decided" here this week, is not on record anywhere, but will emerge later, probably too late for many country negotiators or the public to have much time to study and evaluate.

Some other blogs on this here , here, here, and here.

Some channels that will benefit from the treaty's cablecasting rightBertelsmann AG

RTL Television, Super RTL, VOX or N-TV in Germany, M6 in France, Five in Great Britain, Antena 3 in Spain, RTL 4 in the Netherlands, RTL TVI in Belgium, and RTL Klub in Hungary

CBS Corporation

Showtime, The Movie Channel, Flix, Showtime Too, Showcase, Showtime Extreme, Showtime Beyond, Showtime Next, Showtime Women, Showtime Family Zone, TMC Xtra, Showtime HD, The Movie Channel HD, Showtime on Demand, The Movie Channel on Demand, Sundance Channel


TV One, E!, The Golf Channel, Outdoor Life Network, G4techTV and regional sports networks


The Disney Channel, A&E, ABC Family, SOAPnet, Jetix, ESPN, Lifetime

General Electric

13eme Rue (France), 13th Street (Germany), A&E, Bravo, Calle 13 (Spain), CNBC (coowned with Dow Jones), CNBC Asia, CNBC Europe, CNBC World (co-owned with Dow Jones), History Channel International, Military History Channel, MSNBC (co-owned with Microsoft), mun2, NBC WeatherPlus, Sci Fi Channel, ShopNBC, Sleuth, Studio Universal (Germany and Italy), Telemundo, The Biography Channel, The History Channel en Español, The History Channel, The Sundance Channel, Trio, Universal HD, Universal Channel (Latin America), USA Network

Liberty Media is the largest single shareholder of News Corp, and owns channels like

Discovery, Animal Planet, QVC, Starz, and Encore

News Corp

Fox News Channel, Fox Movie Channel, Fox College Sports, Fox Sport Enterprises, Fox Sports En Espanol, Fox Sports Net, Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Reality, FUEL TV, FX, National Geographic Channel (US and Worldwide), SPEED

Time Warner

Boomerang, Cartoon Network, Cartoon Network Asia Pacific, Cartoon Network Europe, Cartoon Network Latin America, Cinemax, Court TV, CNN/US, CNN Airport Network, CNN en Espanol, CNN Headline News, CNN Headline News in Latin America, CNN Headline News in Asia Pacific, CNN International, CNN Pipelinem, HBO, TBS, TCM Asia Pacific, TCM Canada, TCM Europe, TCM Classic Hollywood in Latin America, TNT HD, Turner Classic Movies


BET, CMT, Comedy Central, LOGO, MTV Networks International, MTV, MTV2, mtvU, Nick at Nite, Nickelodeon, Noggin, Spike TV, TV Land, VH1

Vivendi Universal

Canal +, i>TELE, CINECINEMA (6 channels), Planète, Jimmy, Seasons, Comédie !, Cuisine.TV, SPORT+, NBA+, Canal + Cinema, Canal + Sport, Canal + Decale, Canal + Hi-Tech, Canalsat, NC NUMÉRICÂBLE, Media Overseas