Congress Ratifies WIPO Treaties; RIAA Rejoices

The Recording Industry of America is among the many organizations celebrating the recent ratification by the U.S. Congress of two treaties signed by more than 100 nations at the 1996 World Intellectual Property Conference in Geneva.

Last Wednesday, October 21, Congress finally put its stamp of approval on the agreements, which will protect the creative works of Americans on the Internet. "The U.S. is taking historic action, demonstrating leadership that can inspire other nations to do the same, protecting the rights of creative Americans and people around the world," said Hilary Rosen, president and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America. "Congress deserves credit for recognizing and understanding the importance of these treaties," which were negotiated at the diplomatic conference to secure copyright protections online and to help strengthen copyright laws around the world. Ratification by the United States Senate, although it has come rather late, is an important move in demonstrating American support of the principles of copyright protection. Ratification is supported by President Clinton.

Congress has been criticized for its delay in dealing with the WIPO agreements, but Rosen and others were happy to have finally reached this legislative milestone. "Copyright protections, important enough to be in our Constitution, will be a vital part of our future," Rosen said, "For anyone who has ever turned to the Internet for information or entertainment, these treaties will be essential, strengthening the Internet and making it an even better place for learning and exploration." The RIAA encompasses approximately 90% of all legitimate sound recordings produced, distributed, and sold in the United States.

Not everyone sees the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as a cause for rejoicing, however. The bill makes it a crime to create or sell any technology that could be used to break copyright protection devices or to commit an act of circumvention of the law---something many computer professionals and hobbyists see as a chilling trend. Many have been quite vocal in their opposition to the bill, saying that testing software for bugs, a primary activity among them, could conceivably be construed as a violation. The provisions are scheduled to take effect 18 months and two years after the bill is signed, respectively. A fine of $2,500 per act of circumvention will be levied against those convicted of violating the law---a serious obstacle to those engaged in online research.

In response to lobbying by researchers, some exceptions were made for encryption and computer security research. Some academics are still concerned that content providers now will be able to "padlock" their content, thereby hindering "fair use" rights that presently allow educators to copy and share some material. The bill is awaiting presidential approval.