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The Spring 1997 Horace S. Manges Lecture - Copyright for the Digital Era: The WIPO "Internet" Treaties


by Dr. Mihaly Ficsor{+}



The Berne Convention, after its adoption in 1886, was revised quite regularly, more or less at least every 20th year, until the "twin revisions" which took place in Stockholm in 1967 and in Paris in 1971{1} The revision conferences were convened, in general, in order to find responses to new technological developments (such as phonography, photography, radio, cinematography, television).{2}


In the 1970s and 1980s, a great number of very important new technological developments took place (reprography, videotechnology, compact cassette systems facilitating "home taping," satellite broadcasting, cable television, the increase of the importance of computer programs, computer-generated works and electronic databases, etc.).


For a while, the international copyright community followed the strategy of "guided development,"{3} rather than trying to establish new international norms. This also concerned the so-called neighboring rights covered by the Rome Convention adopted in 1961, which has never been revised.


The recommendations, guiding principles and model provisions worked out by the various WIPO bodies (at the beginning, frequently in cooperation with UNESCO) offered guidance to governments on how to respond to the challenges of new technologies. They were based, in general, on the interpretation of the existing international norms (for example, concerning computer programs, databases, "home taping," satellite


{+} Assistant Director General, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Geneva.
Copyright c 1997 by Mihaly Fjcsor. This article is based upon a speech given by Dr. Ficsor at the 1997 Horace S Manges lecture, delivered on March 6, 1997 at the Columbia University School of Law.


{1} "Twin revisions" in the sense that the substantive provisions of the 1967 Stockholm Act did not enter into force, but they were practically included in the same way into the 1971 Paris Act - the only new substantive element of which was the Appendix concerning compulsory translation and reproduction licenses for developing countries. Thus, until the adoption of the TRIPs Agreement in April 1994 and the WIPO Copyright Treaty in December 1996, 27 and 29 years, respectively, had passed since the last real updating of the Beme Convention in response to the challenges of new technologies.


{2} For example, the following questions were dealt with at the various revision conferences: in 1896, mechanical reproduction; in 1908, photographic works, cinematography; in 1928, cinematography, radiodiffusion; in 1948, cinematography, radiodiffusion, mechanical reproduction; in 1967, television.


{3} Sam Ricketson referred to this form of development in 1986 in his well-known book on the Berne Convention: "In essence, 'guided development' appears to be the present policy of WIPO, whose activities in promoting study and discussions on problem areas have been of fundamental importance to international copyright protection in recent years." See SAM RICKETSON, THE BERNE CONVENTIN FOR THE PROTECTION OF LITERARY AND ARTISTIC WORKS: 1886-1986, 919 (1986).


198            COLUMBIA-VLA JOURNAL OF LAW & THE ARTS            21:3-4


broadcasting, cable television); but they also included some new standards (for example, concerning distribution and rental of copies).{4}


The guidance thus offered in the said "guided development" period had quite an important impact on national legislation, and contributed to the development of copyright all over the world.{5} At the end of the 1980s, however, it was recognized that mere guidance would not be sufficient any more; new binding international norms became indispensable.{6}


The preparation of new norms started in two forums - GATT , in the framework of the Uruguay Round negotiations, and at WIPO, first, in one committee of experts and, later, in two parallel committees of experts.


For a while, the preparatory work in the WIPO committees was slowed down, since the governments concerned wanted to avoid any undesirable interference with the much more complex negotiations on the trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPs) within the Uruguay Round.


After the adoption of the TRIPs Agreement, a new situation emerged. The TRIPs Agreement included certain results of the period of "guided development,"{7} and, whereas it, if properly interpreted, has broad application to many of the issues raised by the spectacular growth of the use of digital technology, particularly through the Internet, it does not specifically address some of those issues, and thus clarification was viewed as desirable.{8}


{4} For a description of the relevant WIPO activities, see Mihaly Ficsor, Towards a Global Solution: The Digital Agenda of the Berne Protocol and the New Instrument. The Rorschach Test of Digital Transmissions in THE FUTURE OF COPYRIGHT IN A DIGITAL ENVIRONMENT 112-113 (P. Bemt Hugenholtz ed., 1996).


{5} The case of computer programs is an example. In' February 1985, the meeting of the Group of Experts on the Copyright Aspects of the Protection of Computer Software took place at WIPO. At that time, there were still only five countries which in their legislation recognized explicitly the copyright protection of computer programs: Australia, Hungary, India, the Philippines and the United States (it is another matter that, in some other countries, such protection was granted on the basis of case law). That meeting, on the basis of a comprehensive study prepared by Michael Keplinger (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Washington, D.C.) and of the discussion, brought about a decisive breakthrough towards copyright protection of computer programs. It is sufficient to mention that, in June and July of the same year, the following four countries provided, in their statutory laws, for the copyright protection of computer programs: France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom.


{6} One of the most important reasons for that was the fact that, as a result of the not sufficiently harmonized responses to the challenges of new technologies, national laws started including differing elements not only in respect to some more or less minor details, which was the case before in Beme member countries due to the quite comprehensive regulation included in the Berne Convention, but also in respect to some fundamental aspects of protection (categories of works, rights and exceptions), and this created some growing conflicts about the application of national treatment. The countries which offered more generous, higher level protection in the new fields tried to find and adopt some legal theories and techniques to avoid what they perceived as an unjustified unilateral burden vis-a-vis the less generous Berne members. 


{7} Particularly, in respect to the protection of computer programs and databases (Article 10 of the Agreement) and rental (Articles 11 and 14.4 of the Agreement).


{8} WIPO started dealing with the impact of digital technology on copyright and neighboring rights more intensively in March 1993, when it organized the WIPO Worldwide Symposium on that subject matter at Harvard University. This topic was also the focus of attention at the WIPO Worldwide Symposium on the Future of Copyright and Neighboring Rights organized in Paris in June 1994. Then the WIPO Worldwide Symposium on Copyright in the Global Information Infrastructure took place in Mexico City, in May 1995. At those meetings, with the participation of outstanding speakers - government officials, representatives of the interested non-governmental organizations, university professors and researchers legal solutions were worked out to the challenges of digital technology which then were applied, in many respects, in the WlPO


1997]            THE WIPO "INTERNET" TREATIES            199

The preparatory work of the new copyright and neighboring rights norms in the WIPO committees was, therefore, accelerated, and that led to the relatively quick convocation of the WIPO Diplomatic Conference on Certain Copyright and Neighboring Rights Questions, which took place in Geneva from December 2-20, 1996.


The Diplomatic Conference adopted two treaties: the WIPO Copyright Treaty (hereinafter also referred to as "the WCT," or, in given contexts, as "the Treaty") and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (hereinafter referred to as "the WPPT," or, in given contexts, as "the Treaty").{9}


The international press, which followed the Diplomatic Conference with great attention, frequently referred to those treaties simply as "Internet treaties." In a way, such a reference was quite justified. Although the treaties, as discussed below, also contain certain other important provisions which clarify obligations under existing international norms, their specific importance is mainly due to those provisions which offer responses to the challenges posed by digital technology.


In this paper, we first briefly discuss the legal nature of the two treaties and their relationship with other treaties; then we deal with the so-called "digital agenda" of the Diplomatic Conference; this is followed by a brief inventory of the other substantive provisions as well as the administrative and final clauses of the treaties; and finally, reference is also made to the continuation of WIPO's norm-setting activities as a follow-up to the Diplomatic Conference.


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