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 News on
the WIPO-proposal

by Karl-Erik Tallmo

  Reason prevailed!

DECEMBER 28TH: Reason prevailed! This was the judgment of most commentators after the WIPO conference in Geneva had finished on December 20th. Delegates decided not  to adopt the controversial article 7. "Temporary" and "indirect" reproduction, mentioned in the proposal, are actually covered in article 9 of the old Berne convention, a fact many of the opponents also had pointed out.

The Treaty on Intellectual Property Rights in Databases was postponed in its entirety, so the adopted treaties were The Copyright Treaty and The Performances and Phonograms Treaty.

The WIPO press release from December 20th is available at

One might say status quo was achieved, and yet this must be regarded as a victory. Things could have turned out really bad. Powerful lobbyist groups with little or no knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of new media might have won a short-term victory, that in the long run would have become truly counterproductive. Much of today's and tomorrow's creative and scientific work - carried out on a global and virtual arena - would largely have been obstructed by the intended, rigid legislation. Now, the public's and the users' situation has at least not changed for the worse. The question, however, is whether the harmonisation that has now been outlined, will suffice in our global networking society.

This conference was in itself indicative of how new media in certain respects break up national boundaries - a direct answer to new global needs as it was. But the conference and the campaigns in connection with it also point at another important tendency: Within the field of electronic publishing, consumers more and more become producers as well. We all know that the computer is a machine for both writing and reading, for both receiving and distribution. Therefore, it is not surprising that also a few traditional ideological front lines have become blurred. Many organisations, authorities, companies and individuals have taken a standpoint in the WIPO issue contrary to what could have been traditionally expected. That is a really good omen.

Will copyright WIPE out
the WWW this winter?

DECEMBER 19TH: It has been remarkably silent lately on the Net. Remember when there used to be black pages and blue ribbons almost everywhere? In August this year, the international copyright organisation WIPO presented its proposal for an addendum to the copyright legislation in the Berne convention. A decision is now hastened - and should possibly be made in Geneva between December 2nd and 20th.

More background information on this issue is available in my article "Copyright Alert", published in the special November 14th issue of The Art Bin. This article is free to publish anywhere, on the Net or in print. Please, use it!

Now, what has happened since November the 14th, when the special Art Bin issue was released?

On November 22nd, the American National Writers Union made a statement against the WIPO-proposal and suggested that the decision should be postponed until the question has been discussed thoroughly with all parties concerned.

In this statement, the NWU remarks that "our views may not be considered traditional for copyright holders". This is true. Especially in Sweden many unions believe that those who criticize the WIPO-proposal want to deny artists or writers payment for their work. But of course such reasonable demands must be weighed against the rights of the users/readers/viewers, rights which up till now has been taken for granted:

"Clearly, the global information infrastructure has the potential to reshape our culture and nearly every aspect of our lives. For that reason, we must voice concerns that favor the rights of information users at the same time that we seek fair compensation for our work," says the National Writers Union in their statement, which is available on

Publisher Bloomberg L.P. also wrote a protest letter on November 22nd. Mr Michael Bloomberg claims that he is unaware of any commercially significant piracy of US-owned databases, that would be meaningfully reduced by early adoption of the proposed treaty.

The organization EBLIDA was founded in the early 90's to fight a proposal within the EU that public libraries would no longer be permitted to lend books without permission from the authors. EBLIDA has made its position clear in a statement available at

Home Recording Rights Coalition (which was founded in the 80's, when the right to record movies from TV on VCR was threatened) has now focussed on this issue as well - and there are similarities. The organization's representative in Geneva is writing daily reports from the conference, available at

On December 5th James Love, director of Consumer Project on Technology Center for Study of Responsive Law in Washington, talked to the press:

"The Conference organizers are deliberately misleading the public about the status of copyright law on the Internet," Mr Love said. "Some press briefings imply that without the treaties, rampant infringements of copyrighted works would be legal. This is patently false. Courts routinely hear cases about the application of current copyright laws on the Internet. New issues are raised, and these issues are resolved through normal court processes. These treaties are not designed to bring copyright to the Internet. They are designed to change copyright law, and to create very restrictive rules for the use of information."

"The treaties are so poorly conceived as to raise questions about the competence of the drafters. People are alarmed that the drafters do not understand computers or the Internet.", James Love remarked.

Several service providers - Compuserve, AOL, Prodigy, Bell and others - wrote a letter directly to president Clinton on December 10th, where they expressed their concerns about the consequences of the WIPO-proposal.

A couple of days of pure formalities passed before actual discussions began in Geneva. But then some delegates objected to the idea that selling equipment that might be used to circumvent copyright protection, should be considered illegal. This would, of course, turn each and every computer reseller into a criminal.

In the first debate on the crucial question about reproduction, the chairman - and a few others - claimed that the right to make copies for personal use and the right to browse - at libraries or on the Net - is more or less implicit. Delegates from Singapore and Denmark suggested that this should be explicitly written in the text, but many delegates felt that this would be unnecessary. Henry Olsson from Sweden said that the Swedish government finds it difficult to accept that reproduction actually occurs in all instances that the proposal specifies.

Around the 16th-17th, more and more delegates began showing signs of stress. Bruce Lehman, Commissioner of the Patent and Trademark Office in the U.S., said that at least the database treaty will probably have to be postponed.

Presumably, the conference will be finished when you read this. Details from the last days' procedings should be available at Home Recording Rights Coalition.

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