The following message from Seth Johnson, Corresponding Secretary, New Yorkers for Fair Use, was posted a few days ago on the Book People user group's bulletin board. It has implications for what we do, and deserves a response.
[Book People Moderator: The statement below has to do with proposed new monopoly grants for "webcasts" of audiovisual material, including material in the public domain, that could prevent others from legally using the materialeven if they were permitted to do so under normal copyright law. This could include audio recordings and images of or from online books. Read on for details. - JMO]
Please review the important joint statement below, related to the WIPO Broadcaster's Treaty, and consider adding your signature if you are an American citizen. Also make sure those you know who should sign are also given the opportunity.
If you choose to sign, please send your name along with an affiliation or appropriate short phrase to attach to your name for identification purposes, to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. If your organization endorses the statement, please indicate that separately, so your organization will be listed under that header.
Thank you for consideration.
Seth Johnson Corresponding Secretary New Yorkers for Fair Use
Joint Statement to Congress:
Dear (Relevant Congressional Committees) (cc the WIPO Delegation):
Negotiations are currently underway at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to develop a treaty giving broadcasters power to suppress currently lawful communications. The United States delegation is also advocating similar rights for "webcasters" through which the authors of new works communicate them to the public.
Some provisions of the proposed "Treaty on the Protection of Broadcasting Organizations" would merely update and standardize existing legal norms, but several proposals would require Congress to enact sweeping new laws that give private parties control over information, communication, and even copyrighted works of others, whenever they have broadcast or "webcast" the work.
The novel policy areas addressed by this treaty go beyond ordinary treaty-making that seeks worldwide adherence to U.S. policy. Instead, this initiative invades Congress' prerogative to develop and establish national policy. Indeed, even as Congress is debating how best to protect network neutrality, treaty negotiators are debating how to eliminate it.
The threat to personal liberties presented by this treaty is too grave to allow these new policy initiatives be handed over to an unelected delegation to negotiate with foreign countries, leaving Congress with the sole option whether to acquiesce. When dealing with policies that are related to copyright and communications, Congress's assigned powers and responsibility under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution become particularly important. We urge two important steps. First, the new proposed regulations should be published in the Federal Register, with an invitation to the public to comment. Second, the appropriate House and Senate committees should hold hearings to more fully explore the impact of these novel legal restrictions on commerce, freedom of speech, copyright holders, network neutrality, and communications policy.
Americans currently enjoy substantial freedoms with respect to broadcast and webcast communications. Under the proposed treaty, the existing options available to commercial enterprises and entrepreneurs as well as the general public to communicate news, information and entertainment would be limited by a new private gatekeeper who adds nothing of value to the content. Communications policies currently under discussion at the FCC would be impacted. Individuals and small businesses would be limited in their freedom of speech. Copyright owners would find their freedom to license their works limited by whether the work had been broadcast or webcast. The principle of network neutrality, already the subject of congressional hearings, would be all but destroyed.
As able as the staff of the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the Library of Congress may be, it was never intended that they alone should stake out the United States national policy to be promoted before an unelected international body in entirely new areas abridging civil liberties. Congress should be the first to establish America's national policies in this new area so that our WIPO delegation will have sufficient guidance to achieve legitimate objectives without impairing Constitutional principles such as freedom of speech and assembly, without impairing the value of copyrights, and without granting to private parties arbitrary power to suppress existing freedoms or burden new technologies.
We cannot afford for Congress to wait for the Senate to be presented with a fully formed treaty calling for the enacting of domestic law at odds with fundamental American liberties foreign to American and international legal norms, and that would bring to a close many of the benefits of widespread personal computing and the end-to-end connectivity brought by the Internet. We ask Congress to use its authority now to shape these important communications policies impacting constitutionally based copyright laws and First Amendment liberties.