Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Constitutional Circumvention

In the FT, James Boyle castigates the "representatives of the United States, who have played an ignominious role as cheerleaders for" the WIPO broadcasting treaty.

" This proposal was so bad, so empirically threadbare, so unbalanced, that I had cherished a faint hope that the members of WIPO would abandon it. At least, I hoped there might be a comparative study of the nations that had previously adopted the protection and those that had not, to see if there was any need for such a change? What was I thinking!!? Why do we need evidence? With remarkably little public attention, the Broadcasting Treaty train is chugging ahead strongly, with states providing new draft proposals over the next two months for a possible decision in September. The status of the webcasting provision is still unclear. But the webcasters are pressing hard. Expect another poorly reasoned proposal to rise from the ashes, with the US playing a key role. The press seems to have missed the story. Bizarrely, the proposal is getting more robust criticism from industry sources, who can see how it will affect competitiveness on the web, than from librarians and civil libertarians who ought to appreciate better than anyone its effect on speech and cultural heritage.

Of course, the casting treaty is a paradigmatic example of the dysfunctions in our international deliberations on these issues; we have the absence of evidence, the mandatory rights and optional exceptions, the industry-capture, the indifference to harm caused by rights-thickets. But the representatives of the United States, who have played an ignominious role as cheerleaders for this silly treaty, have a particular, indeed a constitutional, reason to be ashamed...

In my view, the current drafts of the Broadcast Treaty would be unconstitutional if implemented in American law. They create new copyright-like rights over unoriginal material, indeed material that is frequently copyrighted by someone else. That violates a core restriction of the copyright clause of the constitution. They also ignore the fixation requirement.

But forget the attempt to predict what the Supreme Court would do if it heard the case. Are the US’s negotiators ignoring their constitutional responsibilities, and seeking to get a bad treaty passed with inadequate public debate of its desirability, constitutionality or consequences? About that there is no doubt at all. Shame on them. Jefferson and Madison would not approve. Should we? "

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