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Copyright Law Enters the Digital Age

Global Treaty to Go Into Effect on March 2, 2002 By Denise Turner
Digital copyright goes globalA global treaty that brings international copyright law into the digital age will go into effect on March 6, 2002, heralding a new era in copyright protection in cyberspace. The World Intellectual Property Organization's (WIPO) Copyright Treaty (WCT) protects authors on the Internet by giving them the ability to control the use of their literary works, while the law of "related rights" provides similar protection for performers, producers and broadcasters.

"This is an important day in the history of copyright, making it better equipped to meet the technological challenges of cyberspace," said Dr. Kamal Idris, Director General of the U.N.'s World Intellectual Property Organization. The treaty "will help ensure that artists, composers, writers, musicians and others involved in the creative process are protected from Internet piracy," Idris said. "This will create the conditions necessary for the broad-based and legitimate distribution of creative works and recordings on the Internet."

The WIPO Internet Treaties were negotiated by 160 nations, and adopted in December 1996. The first treaty protects literary and artistic works, which includes books, computer programs, music, art and movies. It updates the Bern Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, originally adopted in 1886 and most recently revised in 1971.

The second treaty on sound recordings supplements the major "related rights" treaty, the Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations, which was adopted in 1961. Although the United States ratified both treaties in September, 1999, at least 30 countries must ratify each treaty before they can go into force. Last Thursday, the WCT garnered its 30th ratification, paving the way for the pact to go into effect in March, 2002. The 30th country ratifying the copyright treaty was Gabon.

The 15 European Union members are still on the outside because they have a provision that all must ratify together. While the treaty has received the requisite number of signatures to be enforced next year, participating countries still must pass their own legislation to implement the agreement.

"The treaties forge links among different national laws, ensuring that creators are also protected in countries other than their own," WIPO officials said. The second treaty, the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT) is also expected to go into effect as soon as two more nations sign the pact. It is the first global accord to protect the rights of performing and recording artists to control the digital distribution of their works.

IFPI, an organization representing the global recording industry, welcomed the news as "an important milestone," and said it hoped ratification of the second treaty would follow shortly. "By ratifying the WIPO Copyright Treaty, governments in 30 countries have shown their commitment to ensuring the future success of the music industry and many other creative sectors in the digital environment," said Jay Berman, chairman of IPFI.

The WIPO treaties set down international norms aimed at preventing unauthorized access to and use of creative works on the Internet or other digital networks. They also make provisions that national law must prevent unauthorized access to and use of creative works which, given the global reach of the Internet, may be downloaded anywhere in the world at the push of a button.

Similar to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the treaties include a controversial "anti-circumvention" provision that requires countries to provide adequate legal protection and penalties against anyone who uses or creates tools that bypass copy protection technologies. These treaties provide the essential legal framework for the continued spectacular growth of e-commerce in coming years, by ensuring that valuable content is fully protected from piracy on the Internet.

Idris stressed the importance of these treaties, especially in light of the rapid growth of the number of Internet users world wide. "These treaties will help to promote the quality of the content appearing on the Internet as well as protecting the rights of holders of copyright and related rights." The pair of treaties will let "composers, artists, writers and others use the Internet with confidence to create, distribute, and control the use of their works within the digital environment," Idris said.

DMN Reporter Denise TurnerDenise Turner is a Digital Media Net staff reporter working out of the companys Midwest Test Facility. Have a comment about the article? Send Denise a note at

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