International Protection for Broadcasts Gaining New Momentum

The proposed international treaty on the protection of broadcasters is inching forward after nearly 10 years of consideration and member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization and other stakeholders are moving toward consensus on the central elements of what it is to do and what is the object of the protection.

Much of the rhetoric of stakeholders—particularly pay TV channels and sports rights organisations—has led many to believe it is about protecting their business models and revenue. They have done the proposed treaty a disservice.

It is about protecting the value creating activities of broadcasters in content selection, packaging and distribution—something that is not protected by copyrights, but can be protected with a neighboring right. What the treaty is intent on doing is protecting the broadcast—in a signal and derivative of the signal—which embodies the broadcasters value creation activities and is the object of the proposed protection.

The result may assist revenue generation and strengthen the business model of rights holders, licensers, and broadcasters, but it does not directly protect those.

What it will do is provide a streamlined mechanism for broadcasters to enforce their rights internationally when unauthorised reception, decryption, and retransmission and rebroadcast of their signals are done by other broadcasters and cablecasters. Such practices regularly occur in some countries and sometimes involve the second broadcaster substituting their own advertising and charging fees to obtain the broadcast.

The treaty essentially gives broadcasters the right to license other uses of their broadcasts and halt uses they have not licensed, but does not give them rights to the content in the broadcasts that they do not own.

The proposed treaty includes some protection of public interests, by permitting national limitations and exceptions for clearly public purposes such as education, service to visually or hearing impaired persons, etc.

Some scepticism about the proposals exists in developing nations, because most of the benefits will occur to broadcasters in high income and upper middle income nations and only limited benefits will occur in other states.

The thorns on the rose bush, however, involve the fact that many of the nations where egregious reuses of broadcasts have occurred have never well enforced copyright, so one must be highly optimistic to believe that passage of the treaty will solve the problem.

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