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“There cannot be any rights [in the treaty] overlaying the rights of the content owners,” stated one delegate from India, according to a transcript of the meeting prepared by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). “India opposes the inclusion of webcasting in any fashion…the focus should be empowering broadcast organizations to prevent piracy of signals.”

Allied with the dissenting nations were several U.S. technology organizations, including chipmaker Intel. Jeff Lawrence, director of digital home and content policy at Intel, and Brad Biddle, a senior attorney in Intel’s Systems Technology Lab, released a statement in advance of the meeting expressing the company’s opposition to the treaty. “Proponents have not demonstrated that the benefits of creating new exclusive rights outweigh the burdens that these new rights impose,” they said.

The problem, from Intel’s point of view, is that the proposed webcasting restrictions could limit the ways consumers can manipulate and experience digital media in their homes – and therefore depress the market for new entertainment-oriented computing systems. “The treaty could give broadcasting organizations the right to control uses of content within the home – uses that are legitimate and non-infringing under copyright law,” wrote Lawrence and Biddle. “For example, makers of digital video recorders could be required to obtain licenses and agree to limitations imposed by broadcasters in order to enable ‘time shifting’ of broadcast content.”

In the end, the U.N. committee members voted to remove the webcasting language from the main treaty draft, and instead placed it into a new proposal to be discussed at a separate meeting.

The U.S. delegation was “not happy about the outcome,” according to Gwen Hinze, a staff attorney for the EFF who blogged about the conference from Geneva. The delegation “said it was concerned with the ‘missed opportunity’ to provide protection” for webcasts by traditional broadcasters, he wrote. “[Now] we wait to see the new draft proposal [due in August].”

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The mission of the World Intellectual Property Organization, one of 16 specialized agencies of the United Nations, is primarily to harmonize copyright and patent laws around the world. It oversees 23 international treaties on intellectual property rights enacted since 1883, and periodically drafts new treaties to keep up with changing markets and communications technologies.

Its last major treaties, the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty, both adopted in 1996, forced signatories to amend their own copyright laws to deal with the rise of digital piracy, for example, by outlawing attempts to foil digital encryption schemes and other anti-copying technologies. In the United States, these treaties led directly to the enactment of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which has been criticized by freedom-of-information advocates for stifling fair and legal uses of copyrighted content.

“WIPO is a tool by which old media industries try to suppress the new developments that threaten their control,” says Tim O’Reilly, CEO of technology publisher O’Reilly Media, one of 20 technology companies to endorse an EFF briefing paper opposing the webcasting provisions last November. “While the Net is not without its problems, it’s still in the formative stages, and I’d sure hate to see it put under all the same regimes as old media,” says O’Reilly. “After all, the new activity on the net arose specifically because of the opportunity to route around some of those restrictions.”

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