Madonna, Mickey Mouse and every artistic creator and creation in between stand to benefit from a new international pact designed to protect patents, copyrights and other intellectual property rights in cyberspace.
Who will play cybercop, however, has yet to be decided.
In a sprint to keep international law in step with technology, a United Nations panel in Geneva yesterday closed a landmark pact that will establish global ground rules for protecting recordings, videos, books and other intellectual property that zips through the Internet and across international borders.
The agreement, negotiated over the past two weeks, is the first of its kind. When ratified by the participating governments, it will set basic international rules for protecting digitally transmitted property.
"This establishes basic rights. It's establishing the basic principle: `Thou shalt not steal,' " said U.S. negotiator Bruce Lehman in an interview from Geneva. Mr. Lehman, who heads the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, was the administration's point man at the Geneva talks.
The agreement means performers and artists will be able to use the Internet to distribute their music, art or writings worldwide. Anyone caught using or distributing the materials without permission would be subject to punishment.
U.S. law protects intellectual property domestically, but until now no international law protected works sent through cyberspace. An agreement became critical as more countries - many of them lacking copyright laws - began using Internet technology.
"We have enough trouble protecting the physical product internationally on the Internet and on line," said Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America. "It's going to get that much more difficult, and this creates a bottom-line series of rights."
The Geneva agreement encompasses two treaties: on literary and artistic works and on the cyberspace rights of music performers and producers. The music treaty alone affects a $2-billion-a-year global industry.
Negotiators couldn't reach a deal …