With government negotiators and broadcast officials descending on Geneva this week to continue negotiations on the WIPO Broadcast Treaty, my weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) examines a proposal that started as an attempt to address the narrow issue of signal theft and has today mushroomed into a massive treaty that would grant broadcasters in some countries many new rights. Many people are questioning the impact of the treaty, which includes an exclusive retranmission right, an extension in the term of protection for broadcasts, and the decision to make the exceptions and limitations in the treaty optional. Indeed, even the Canadian delegation has wondered aloud whether the treaty would create a danger that some broadcasts might never fall into the public domain, effectively creating a perpetual broadcasting right.
The impact of the treaty on individuals and creators could be dramatic, potentially making it more difficult to record television shows for viewing at a later time, locking up content that is otherwise in the public domain, and necessitating that film makers obtain twice as many consents for the re-use of broadcast clips.
The potential cost of the new rights is also significant, with Canadian broadcast distributors, including the major telecommunications companies that have begun offering high-definition television services, fearing that the new retransmission right alone could result in more than a half billion dollars in new royalty payments flowing out of Canada to U.S. broadcasters.