As Jamie Boyle points out in a masterful piece in the Financial Times, this week (likely Wednesday), the World Intellectual Property Organization will move forward on a controversial Broadcasting Treaty by calling for a meeting later this year to negotiate a near-final text followed by a diplomatic conference sometime in 2006. The Broadcasting Treaty proposal, which would grant significant new rights to broadcasting organizations (including webcasters) for merely broadcasting a signal, is the product of intense lobbying from powerful broadcast interests. It is simply unsupportable by virtually any theory of copyright. User groups obviously object to a further copyright grab as do some creator groups who note that the proposed treaty focuses on the intermediary broadcaster rather than the creator.
It is safe to assume that Canada is represented at the WIPO meetings this week. I say assume because Canadian delegations have stayed almost completely silent on the Broadcasting Treaty through several years of discussions.
In June 2003 Canada forwarded a proposal on retransmission which didn' t seem to gain much traction (the specific proposal was that "any Contracting Party may, in a notification deposited with the Director General of WIPO, declare that it will apply the right to authorize or prohibit the simultaneous retransmission by wire or wireless means of unencrypted wireless broadcasts only in respect of certain retransmissions, or that it will limit it in some other way, or that it will not apply it at all.")
In November 2003, Canada intervened again, this time expressing concern about the potential for new broadcaster rights to interfere with the rights associated with the underlying content. The Canadian delegation is reported to have stated that "in the case where a broadcaster would transmit content protected by copyright or related rights, the owner of that content should have the right to authorize any act which would otherwise require the consent of the broadcaster."
As far as I can tell, these represent the sum total of Canada's contribution to the proposed Broadcasting Treaty. Are we in favour of it? Against? Awake at the meeting? This proposed treaty will impact millions of Canadians yet the government has failed to articulate a position, much less engage in a public consultation. It is time to come out of our slumber by taking a position at WIPO. The Canadian delegation should argue against a diplomatic conference by acknowledging that it yet to gather the views of its citizens. There is no urgency here. Until the government launches a public consultation, it simply should not be supporting movement toward a diplomatic conference.
Update: WIPO reportedly debated the Broadcasting Treaty issue this morning. Dozens of countries spoke up with the U.S. describing the issue as urgent and requiring a diplomatic conference in 2006, while some developing countries arguing that more meetings are needed before moving toward the DC. As for Canada? True to form, our delegation apparently said nothing.