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The East: Coalition Calls For Internet Copyright Laws

  • Julie Moffett

Washington, 16 September 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A coalition of major American businesses is urging the U.S. Senate to ratify two new international copyright treaties that were negotiated last December in Switzerland by delegates from more than 100 countries.

The two treaties, which will be introduced for debate in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, are the World Intellectual Property Organization's Copyright Treaty, and the Performances and Phonograms Treaty.

The Copyright Treaty primarily updates the Berne Convention -- the original international copyright agreement which went into effect in 1886 and has since been updated eight times.

The Performances and Phonograms Treaty is intended to bring international legal protection standards for the recording industry closer in line with other copyright industries.

Overall, the new treaties are intended to modernize world standards for copyright protection for the first time in more than 25 years and to specifically encompass new technology, including the Internet.

If the treaties go into effect -- and it will take at least 30 countries to ratify each of them -- it will mark the first major international effort to protect copyrights on the Internet. In simpler terms, those nations that ratify the treaties will be bound to recognize, through their own laws, that copyright extends to the Internet and other emerging digital media.

However, only one country so far -- Indonesia -- has ratified the Copyright Treaty. Only two nations in all of Eastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union have even signed the treaties: Hungary and Kazakhstan.

The treaties are especially important to American businesses who lose a substantial amount of money every year due to copyright piracy and anticipate even greater losses as Internet usage around the world explodes.

For example, the Internet permits users from every corner of the globe to access and copy a virtual library of words, music, software and pictures. But this same technology also makes it easier to misuse and steal information and products.

Piracy -- and now electronic piracy -- hurts creative industries such as publishing, film, music and computer software the most.

A report issued last year by the International Intellectual Property Alliance concluded that in 1995 alone, the U.S. copyright industries lost an estimated $14.6 billion to copyright piracy in 97 countries.

The report says that China is the world's leading exporter of pirated materials despite some recent progress on this front. Following China as the world's worst copyright offenders are Greece, Paraguay and Russia, says the report.

According to the report, Russia alone accounted for $1 billion in lost sales for the U.S. in 1996. In comparison, the report estimates that U.S. losses in 1995 due to foreign piracy from all Eastern European nations together totaled $1.8 billion. In both cases, those businesses most affected by the piracy were American computer software companies and the U.S. movie industry.

The report also lists 47 more countries where copyright violations are occurring at an "alarming rate." They include: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, and all of the countries of the former Soviet Union (excluding Russia).

To combat the piracy, several American companies and associations have formed the coalition called the Creative Incentive Coalition to ensure the two treaties are ratified by the U.S. Senate.

Members of the coalition include the Association of American Publishers, Motion Picture Association of America, Microsoft Corporation, Time Warner, Newspaper Association of America, the Business Software Alliance, Seagram/Universal Studios, and the Recording Industry Association of America.

In a written statement distributed to the press, the coalition said: "As we embrace today's newest technology -- the Internet -- it's important to remember our values. Even in cyberspace, along with opportunity comes responsibility. It's wrong to encourage an electronic marketplace in stolen goods. It's right for the nations of the world to come together to protect the work of artists and other creative people."

The coalition held a press conference in Washington on Monday to publicly urge the Senate to ratify the treaties.

Ronald Dunn, President of the Information Industry Association, said: "Copyright represents a fundamental American value, a right so basic our founding fathers included it in the Constitution. It is essential that the treaties are ratified."

Jack Valenti, President and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, said that if the U.S. did not immediately sign or hesitated to ratify the treaties, America would be seen as a "bundle of withering indecision" and Americans would be the "losers."

Hilary Rosen, President and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America agreed, saying that copyright piracy of America's music is so rampant that it costs the industry billions of dollars every year.

"America is providing the music the world wants to hear. And America is providing the music the world wants to steal. It has to stop," said Rosen.

However, there are some critics of the treaties, including telephone companies who want immunity from liability for copyright infringements taking place on their networks, and some education and research organizations who fear certain materials will no longer be available to them on the Internet under the new laws.

But the coalition stresses that the treaties will "not inhibit any of the range of legitimate activities" that occur on the Internet.