Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Web Piracy Treaty Could Work against Public Interest

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Web Piracy Treaty Could Work against Public Interest

Article excerpt

Here's a motherhood-and-apple-pie idea: Keep pirates from stealing online works.

But a treaty now brewing in Switzerland would turn that sensible concept into pure poison. As is typically the case when governments and powerful companies are setting the agenda, the public interest isn't even on the table.

Negotiators from around the world recently gathered in Geneva to discuss a draft treaty from the World Intellectual Property Organization, or WIPO. They're under pressure - some of which is being applied by American officials - to approve measures that could, among other things, make it illegal to browse the World Wide Web. That may sound absurd, but it's all too real. What is truly absurd is that people who should (and I believe do) know better are behind this turkey. The draft treaty effectively declares that all copyrighted material stored on a computer is illegal unless the copyright holder has given explicit permission for it to be there. Anyone who knows how the Internet works also knows that browsing, or searching, on the World Wide Web could be a violation of this provision. That is because material is temporarily stored on the hard drives of individual users as they browse the Web. Backers of this part of the treaty - Hollywood filmmakers in particular - say they wouldn't dream of making normal Web browsing illegal. Fine: Rewrite the treaty to make this clear. That is not the only nasty provision in the draft document. Another would give owners of databases more copyright protection than they already have, which is plenty. This pernicious item would give companies almost boundless control over collections of information. It would reverse a 1991 Supreme Court ruling that said you can't collect a bunch of simple facts - the issue in that landmark case was phone book white pages - and copyright them. Copyright is properly reserved for creative endeavors. One of the major problems with the treaty provision is its vagueness. The terms it uses are open to widely differing interpretations. But I tend to agree with opponents who believe it is grossly unbalanced in favor of corporate interests and against the public interest. …

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