The United Nations’ World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) has steadily been eroding the “fair use” provisions in international copyright law (through the Digital Rights Management (DRM) practices associated with the DMCA or Digital Millenium Copyright Act of the USA).
Here’s an interesting copyright law development — how activists stopped the United States representatives to WIPO from introducing a new set of provisions, which would have affected popular media practices such as podcasting and culture-jamming.
The new set of provisions, the “webcaster’s provision” in the Broadcast Treaty was intended to protect the so-called “webcasters” – in other words, hosting companies like Yahoo and Microsoft.
The webcasters’ provision tried to extend a number of protections to such companies, treating them like the broadcasters and cablecasters who are the focus of the Broadcast Treaty:
[the Broadcast Treaty] will create a new group of rightsholders, the people who transmit information (broadcasters, satellite casters, cablecasters, but for now, not webcasters). These people get a “broadcast right” to the works they transmit, over and above the copyright that goes to those works’ creators. That means that even if you have the creator’s permission to use a work you’ve received, you still need to get clearance from the broadcaster, whose only contribution to the work was putting it on the air.
According to Cory Doctorow’s original explanation, this would “allow people who transmit information on the Internet to control how anyone who receives it uses it — even if it’s Creative Commons licensed, or in the public domain, or not copyrightable.”
The webcaster’s provision was seen as a particular threat to practices like podcasting, and would even have governed parody and quotation. Sites like YouTube, Google Video, and Democracy Player would have been affected. For now, the provision has been defeated, but, with the US backing it, I bet it won’t be long before it’s back under a new guise.