Meryl Streep, Other Top Actors, Urge WIPO To Finish Audiovisual Treaty

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World Intellectual Property Organization members yesterday resumed a 12-year-old top-level negotiation for a treaty on the protection of performers’ rights in audiovisual productions, this time with the eloquent urgings of some of the world’s top film and television actors to finish the job.

The treaty is fairly high stakes for WIPO, which has not had a wholly new treaty in years (it has updated a couple), and for the multilateral system in general, which has been criticised for the inability of governments to reach agreements in those environments.

The treaty negotiation – or diplomatic conference – is taking place in Beijing from 20-26 June. More information and all documents are available here.

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said in his opening remarks that there is universal agreement on the value of performers and the need to protect them. WIPO said today that more than 700 delegates attended the opening ceremony.

The WIPO AV Treaty

Negotiations on the short, 19-point audiovisual treaty stalled in the year 2000 after agreement could not be reached on Article 12, on the transfer of rights associated with performances. This time around, members have a tentative deal on that issue – essentially leaving it to the national level – and have a good likelihood of completing the treaty. The deal was reached in the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) in June 2011.

Related IP-Watch Article: WIPO Committee Sees Breakthrough On Audiovisual Treaty After 11-Year Delay, 24 June 2011

Referring to the deal, the United States on behalf of the Group B developed countries said, “We are now in a position to conclude this treaty.” Doing so will reinforce WIPO’s role and show that the multilateral process can work, it said.

The basic proposal is here.

There still are issues to be worked out, however. There may be some disagreement over the inclusion of an Article 20 that contains provisions on enforcement of rights. This provision requires that countries have “enforcement procedures available under their law so as to permit effective action against any act of infringement of rights covered by this treaty….”

Talks this week also will focus on additional explanatory provisions and overarching introductory language. Specifically, there likely will be discussion on administrative and final provisions to the text, plus three additional statements to accompany Articles 1, 2, and 15.

Art. 1 deals with the relation of this treaty to other conventions and treaties; Art. 2 is the definitions; and Art. 15 relates to “obligations concerning technological measures,” requiring that contracting parties provide adequate legal protection and effective legal remedies against the circumvention of effective technological measures used by performers.

And several regional groups, such as the African Group and the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries, are demanding that an additional clause be inserted into the treaty preamble recognising the importance of the 2007 WIPO Development Agenda. That agenda contains 45 recommendations aimed at infusing a development dimension into all WIPO activities.

But all appear to agree on the need to get the treaty done, and now have the encouragement of top actors from their countries.

In a video recording of actors from around the world, Oscar-winning American actress Meryl Streep urged negotiators to agree on the treaty as it is a “pivotal time in the performers’ battle for intellectual property protection,” due to digital technology. Spanish actor Javier Bardem explained that each performer is different, making each performance unique. Sonia Braga of Brazil told negotiators it is “absolutely necessary.”

“The adoption of a new instrument would strengthen the precarious position of performers in the audiovisual industry by providing a clearer international legal framework for their protection,” WIPO said in a release. “Notably, for the first time, it would provide performers with protection in the digital environment.”

WIPO also had an introductory press release explaining the processes, available here.

Separately, in its opening remarks, the European Union said that it has been recognised as having competency on this treaty, and so can become party to it.

African Perspective

In its opening statement, the African Group, represented by Egypt, gave reasons why it supports the treaty. “To name but a few,” it said, it would be important to extend performers’ rights against unauthorised use of audiovisual performances to films and videos available on the internet, along the lines of the 1996 WPPT [the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty], especially when it comes to economic rights of performers in their unfixed performances, the right of reproduction, the right of distribution, the right of rental, the right of making available of fixed performances and the right of broadcasting and communication to the public.”

The instrument also will ensure, Egypt said, “that when a DVD is reproduced, sold, rented or broadcasted in a different country, equitable benefits will accrue to the country of origin, which can then be shared with performers.”

It also said that the instrument will “grant performers moral rights to prevent lack of attribution or distortion of their performance.”

“Indeed, for many actors and performers, especially in developing countries, the treaty will strengthen their economic rights and equitable and non-discriminatory benefit sharing,” the African Group said.

Finally, it said, “the instrument contains sufficient flexibility for each WIPO member state to regulate, as part of their national laws, the best suited design to address the issue of transfer of rights from performers to producers.”

Where Better than Beijing?

Gurry and others said it is appropriate that the treaty be completed in China, which he said has a dynamic cultural sector. For instance, the country produced over 500 feature films in 2010 and had the largest number of television series in the world, he said.

China joined WIPO in the 1980s and has risen in importance in the organisation. It is its own regional group at the organisation, the only single country to do so (it is not, for instance, part of the Asian Group). It also has its highest ever official in WIPO under Gurry, Deputy Director General for Brands and Designs Binying Wang. She has been notably reticent about press attention in the WIPO hallways.

Several senior Chinese officials opened the ceremonies, with Chinese State Counselor Liu Yandong listing the progress the country has made in practice and in its observance of IP rights, while acknowledging the work still to be done by China, such as instilling a greater awareness of IP in its people and continuing to reduce infringement.

“Respecting IP is … a mark of our civilization,” she said, and emphasised the importance of a balance between rights and the interests of creators, as well as taking into account the differences between nations and their unique situations.

Members elected Liu Binjie, minister of the National Copyright Administration of China and president of the General Administration of Press and Publications, to be president of the conference. And closed discussions were held between regional group coordinators prior to the opening of the meeting, Gurry said.

In his opening remarks, WIPO Assistant Director General for Copyright Trevor Clarke said, “This conference is called to deliver a baby that has been many, many years in the making.”

At this point, it might be said, delegates have a pretty good idea what it’s going to look like, and all sides seem to be intent on bringing it into the world.

William New may be reached at wnew@ip-watch.ch.

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