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Responding to the developments in technology, in 1996 WIPO adopted the Internet Treaties (the WIPO Copyright Treaty – WTC, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty – WPPT) aiming at updating the old Berne and Rome conventions, that by that year were already more than a quarter century old (since their adoption or last revision). New kinds of works, new means of distribution and dissemination, a whole new scenario needed to be addressed.

What was the purpose of the Internet Treaties?

– To clarify that existing rights continued to apply in the online world, such as those related to literary and artistic works, including software programs, music, audiovisual works and photographs; and also related rights, meaning those held by performers and record producers.

– To provide legal protection against “circumvention of technological measures” a/k/a cracking DRM applications; and, against the intentional deletion or alteration of the “rights management information”, a/k/a intentionally deleting or modifying metadata regarding names of authors, composers, performers, etc.

– To require countries to apply the “national treatment principle”, meaning that all of them should provide full protection to foreign rightsholders, nationals of other parties to the Treaties, in the same terms as that provided to their own nationals.

As the IIPA puts it, the Treaties “lay the groundwork for the healthy expansion of electronic commerce in countries that ratify them, including the possibility of more and better jobs, more secure and diversified economies, and greater social and cultural advancement”. The IIPA also believes that the Treaties are important because:

– Electronic commerce can help overcome existing barriers to access to scientific, medical and technical data, educational materials, and technical and productivity software.

– Electronic commerce can help attract higher and more consistent levels of foreign direct investment in high technology and information-intensive businesses.

– Electronic commerce can help build stronger economic, social, and cultural links in the region, without regard to geographic proximity.

– Electronic commerce can provide an enormous boost to a country’s cultural and creative industries.

While the Treaties did and still do their part on providing a safe and strong framework for the development of an Intellectual Property rights market worldwide, they do not include strong provisions on matters related to the enforcement of rights. The Treaties simply do not respond to today’s increased rates of piracy, that have caused the recording industry to kneel and such severe damages to the software industry.

According to the official summary released by the USTR and to leaked documents, and as I said in my previous post regarding the ACTA, the agreement will establish international standards on the enforcement of rights. In the last round of negotiations, held in Guadalajara (Mexico) in January 26 -29, 2010, the main issues discussed were civil enforcement, border measures, enforcement procedures in the digital environment and transparency.

Some have said that ACTA puts WIPO itself at risk; the main point to focus on is that there is today a real need for stronger laws, stronger penalties and more instruments of international cooperation. It’s not just about recognizing the existence of the rights; it’s about being able to truly protecting them, no matter the jurisdiction.

In the meantime, the Obama administration has refused requests for information even made under the Freedom of Information Act, based on national-security grounds. Even the EFF sued the U.S. Trade Representative trying to force disclosure, the complaint being filed on Sep. 17, 2008; they later dropped the suit because there was nothing they could do against the national-security defense.

Carlos S. Álvarez
blogladooscuro @ gmail.com

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