Everyone knows that the information community is global. When I go to a Russian Internet cafe and access LexisNexis (owned by Reed Elsevier, a Dutch multinational corporation) or sit in my office in Pittsburgh and review e-journals provided by Kluwer Online, I'm interacting with the information world in a manner that was impossible a mere decade ago. This global influence also creates significant legal problems for information providers, such as identifying and selecting jurisdictions, determining the applicable law, and enforcing intellectual property rights.
Partial solutions to these problems often take one of two forms. In some cases, information providers take steps to ensure that their content complies with as many countries' laws as possible. This, however, can limit content availability as the providers fear running afoul of some nation's law. The alternative to this hinges on the new laws and treaties from multinational groups such as the European Union and the World Intellectual Property Organization. Their proposals can address dozens of jurisdictions under a single legal umbrella, making compliance more manageable.
There have been a number of recent developments on the international lawmaking front that warrant attention here in the U.S.
U.K. Copyright Regulations
On Oct. 31, 2003, the U.K. enacted Copyright and Related Rights regulations, which implement the European Union Copyright Directive in that country. These regulations expand the rights given to copyright owners over how their work is made available, particularly over broadcast and Internet media. It also gives new, similar rights to performers for making their works available to the public.
The regulations include language that limits "fair dealing" (what we would call fair use) to noncommercial purposes only. While this would obviously apply to copying by a for-profit business or firm, the U.K.'s Patent Office suggested that it also applies to any research with a commercial purpose or potential commercial purpose, even if conducted by a nonprofit business or academic institution. Copies made by libraries would also be subject to the regulations if they were produced for a commercial entity or purpose. These regulations, although similar to those of other countries that have implemented the EU Copyright Directive, are seen as more friendly to businesses than consumers.
The World Intellectual Property Organization and the European Union have introduced some new proposals for copyright laws. WIPO's directive is a treaty that focuses on increased protection for material broadcast over traditional means, such as radio and television, and also adds Internet-based transmission. It would strengthen the rights of broadcasters to control the subsequent use of their materials and extends those protections to Internet streaming and potentially other forms of Internet communication, including non-streamed media (video, audio, and images), text, and software. The proposal would also make the protection available for 50 years from the time of the broadcast.
Critics of the treaty argue that it would add a new level of rights control over broadcast content in …