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If proposed rules preventing the digital retransmission of TV, radio, or cable broadcasts are adopted as part of an international treaty on broadcasting, it could have repercussions throughout the nascent world of Web broadcasting. For instance, it might become illegal for musicians to offer recordings of their performances on their own websites, or for bloggers to post video and audio files – even if the content is in the public domain.

But last week countries opposed to these provisions – which would have given broadcasters and cable TV companies broad new rights to control information on the Internet – managed to strip them from the treaty, at least temporarily.

During a five-day meeting in Geneva of the U.N. World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, an unlikely coalition of delegates from developing nations and technology organizations such as Intel and the U.S. Telecom Association voiced strong objections to treaty provisions covering webcasting and “simulcasting” over broadcast or cable networks and computer networks. By the end of the meeting, on May 5, the committee, which had intended to finish a draft treaty that could be agreed upon by the WIPO General Assembly in 2007, decided to send the assembly only the less controversial sections of the treaty. Debate over the Internet provisions was deferred until this fall.

“The good news is that webcasting is out of the treaty,” says Robin Gross, executive director of IP Justice, a civil liberties organization based in San Francisco, which sent a representative to the meeting. “But it’s a little too soon to celebrate,” he adds, since one article still in the main draft of the treaty gives broadcasters the exclusive right to authorize retransmission of their broadcasts by any means, including over computer networks.

Disparagement of the proposed webcasting rules has been rife since a previous meeting of the WIPO committee last November, when delegates from the United States proposed extending the draft treaty’s protections for traditional broadcasts to cover material delivered over the Internet. According to Gross and other observers, the “WIPO Treaty on the Protection of Broadcasting Organizations,” as the document is called, was originally conceived to strengthen legal safeguards against signal theft – the interception and sharing of satellite, cable, or over-the-air broadcasts.

But as work on the draft treaty progressed, proposed rules giving the original broadcasters of a program the sole power to authorize such rebroadcasts via traditional means grew to include Internet transmission. “We saw the big broadcasters getting very interested in this treaty and adding a whole new slew of rights,” Gross says, as well as inserting new proposals via a sympathetic U.S. delegation to the WIPO committee.

The proposed webcasting rules would give broadcasting organizations a new kind of property right over audio and video transmissions. Once a film, TV show, or song had been broadcast, the draft proposals gave the broadcaster control over access to that content for as long as 50 years.

In Geneva last week, representatives from Brazil, Iran, Thailand, India, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Bangladesh, and Ghana, as well as other nations, expressed anger about the provisions, and questioned why the language from the November meeting remained in the draft treat – despite the objections of many WIPO members.

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