No Broadcast Policy Without Representation! is something I am still reading through, but it seemed important enough to merit mention here.
In summary, apparently international treaties are forcing the United States to agree to allow distributors of works to own an exclusive right to distribution. The “broadcaster’s right” is recognized in a number of other countries, but not in the United States. It’s not unheard of for a television channel to get exclusive rights to broadcast a program for decades. Now they want to expand the law to cover broadcasts over the World Wide Web.
What does it mean? Right now if you create a copyrightable work, you own the exclusive right to that work. No one else can legally distribute it unless they get permission from you. With this law, as pointed out by James Love:
The proposed treaty concerns a system of ownership for
material transmitted over wireless means such as television, radio and
satellite, as well as wired communications over cable networks, and also
over Internet computer networks.
This proposal expands or gives new rights to transmitters of information,
even if they are not the creators of that information. Rights that are
normally reserved to creators and performers would be afforded to
organizations that merely transmit creations and performances — even if
those works are in the public domain, even if those works’ authors wish to
have the works distributed without restriction.
The possible consequences?
The casting entities fundamentally want a layer of ownership over materials
that they did not create or previously own. They want the treaty to
declare they “own” what they transmit, even when the materials are in the
public domain (government works, older works, materials donated to the
public domain, etc), when they cannot be copyrighted (facts, data, other
non-copyrightable materials), or when owned by third parties, including
those who have no interest in suppressing distribution of works (speeches
by government officials, Al Qaeda tapes, listserves, newsgroups, etc).
More links to the topic:
- O’Reilly Network The Problem with Webcasting
- Financial Times James Boyle: More rights are wrong for webcasters
- The Huffington Post A UN/WIPO Plan to Regulate Distribution of Information on the Internet