7 March 2002 An international treaty intended to strengthen the protection of copyright on the Internet came into force yesterday. A second treaty on sound recordings will come into effect in May 2002. The treaty was negotiated by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).
The first of the two treaties on Internet copyright is seen as tougher than earlier legislation and has led to litigation in the US, where it has already been implemented. WIPO maintains that the copyright treaty is intended to update and adapt copyright legislation to cover digital recordings. Negotiations on the treaties were started as long ago as 1996.
The two treaties have been controversial. Music and book publishers, film producers and software developers have generally backed WIPO’s view that the updated rules will increase the protection of online content by clarifying enforcement rights against piracy.
This in turn, WIPO has argued, will give an incentive to copyright owners to publish their works online and therefore boost the legitimate distribution of information and creative works over the Internet.
More controversially, the treaties make it illegal to even attempt to circumvent encryption and other technical measures that are put in place in order to prevent piracy. Predictably, record label companies back WIPO, in the hope that the collection of royalties will be made easier and the distribution of copy-protected CDs will be safeguarded.
However, civil liberties advocates have attacked the new rules, arguing that they will encroach on web users’ freedom of speech. This view is widely held among users but has so far found little support among judges and legal experts in the US – as reflected by the defeat of US song-swapping online service Napster in a test case. Napster was forced to shut down in November 2001.
In addition, the new rules will also make it illegal for security experts to test anti-piracy measures used by copyright holders – a standard way of investigating the effectiveness of security measures in the computer industry.
European Union member states are expected to pass enabling legislation, which will then lead to the ratification of the two treaties by the EU itself.