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New treaty to protect copyrights on-line
Friday, December 07 2001
by Matthew Clark

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A new treaty that will help unify the world's copyright laws and bring them into the digital age has been ratified by 30 UN members.

The treaty, which takes effect in three months, is called the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and will be entered into force following Gabon's (a western African nation) approval of the plan originally introduced in 1996. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, a division of the United Nations, WCT will bring copyright law in line with the digital age.

"This is an important day in the history of copyright, making it better equipped to meet the technological challenges of cyberspace," said director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization, Dr. Kamil Idris.

According to Idris, the two treaties will provide a platform for creators to exploit the Internet with confidence. "Together, these treaties represent a milestone in modernising the international law of copyright and neighbouring rights, ushering it into the digital age," he said. Idris also emphasised the importance of the new norms provided for in the WCT and the WPPT which, he said, are vital for the further development of the Internet, electronic commerce and also the culture and information industries.

But the Director General also urged more nations to sign on to the two pacts so that the treaties could be truly effective in the "borderless world of cyberspace."

WCT is the first international agreement of its kind since the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works was adopted internationally in 1886 and updated in 1971. Nations that adopt the two agreements ensure that their own copyright laws and regulation contain certain minimum standards to protect the rights of writers, musicians, artists, software makers and broadcasters.

The WPPT will similarly safeguard the interests of producers of phonograms or sound recordings as well as of the performers whose performances are fixed in phonograms. It updates and supplements the major related rights treaty, the Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations, adopted in 1961.

The minimum requirements for participating states consist of assurances of compensation for creators as well as adequate means of protection for works disseminated over the Internet. Additionally, the pacts ensure that rightholders can effectively use technology to protect their rights and to license their works on-line.

Both agreements also include some provisions for enforcement. According to the Intellectual Property Unit of Beauchamps Solicitors in Dublin, policing, more than new legislation, is what is needed in the current climate. The unit says there is a variety of issues of concern to creators in terms of intellectual property in cyberspace, and says that art is a matter often overlooked. "Just because you own a piece of art doesn't mean you have the right to put it on the Internet," said Gary Rice, a member of the IP unit.

But Rice said that the level of intellectual property protection in cyberspace had increased in recent years and that Ireland's current legislation was in-line with the new treaties.

On 01 January 2001 the Copyright and Related Rights Act, 2000 became law in Ireland, which was a total reform of Irish copyright law. That act was the first comprehensive review of Irish copyright law since the enactment of the Copyright Act 1963.

The Act implements into Irish law a number of European Union Directives in the field of copyright and related rights and brings Irish law into conformity with all obligations incurred under international law on copyrights and related rights.

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