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Re: WIPO Conference - Press Briefing (fwd)

  Here is an Op-Ed piece I'm going to circulate on the WIPO
  treaty. If you have a chance to read it, I would really
  appreciate knowing if there are factual errors. Some of the
  notions are a bit hyperbolic so I want to check them. This may
  be the last time in my life that I use facts and I don't want to
  get them wrong.
  -Peter Wayner
  An Orwellian Database Disaster (or) WIPO Suction
  Peter Wayner
  1108 Bellemore Road
  Baltimore, MD 21210
  In the good old days, the detectives on Dragnet wanted the facts
  and just the facts. Those indisputable details from life
  shimmered like civic gold and had a place in the hearts of
  America next to apple pie and baseball. But now pies roll off of
  assembly lines and baseball is ruled by a money mad alliance,
  no one should be surprised that the facts of the world will soon
  be controlled by monopoly corporations.
  The deal is being cut in Geneva right now as the World
  Intellectual Property Organization debates giving someone the
  right to own the facts in a database. On the face of it, the
  proposed treaty sounds like an innocent acknowledgement of the
  hard work that people and companies put into assembling a large
  collection of knowledge. This takes time and effort and the
  digital era makes it easy for anyone to simply copy the data and
  undercut the people who did the work.
  But the danger lies in the slippery definition of a database.
  Consider this Texaco-like scenario: Some employee tapes racist,
  sexist or illegal  conversations in the chambers of power and
  then releases it to the public. In the past, who said what to
  whom would be a fact and everyone would be free to repeat it as
  long as it was true. But the savvy, post-WIPO corporation won't
  have to have its name dragged through the mud. It would argue,
  quite reasonably, that the tape was a corporate data base
  created by an employee on company time.
  The corporation would now be protected by a very strictly
  defined copyright. News organizations certainly wouldn't be able
  to quote the tapes outright. Fair use rules will also be
  tightened up by the treaty. Letting someone look over your
  shoulder while reading the paper may be a copyright violation.
  The news organizations might not even be able to suggest that
  such a thing even happened because that would amount to copying
  the data in the database. The treaty is designed to prevent
  someone from ``stealing'' a database by restating the facts and
  not spending the time to independently research them. If only
  corporate employees were present, then there's no one around
  who's independently established the facts.
  The effects of this could be devastating. Everyone will have to
  ask ``mother, may I'' before citing anything. Newspaper
  reporting of bad news will be finished. Comparison shopping
  could be illegal because prices are data with specific
  protection. Restaurant, movie, book or theater reviews had
  better be very positive or pure opinion because repeating a
  detail to bolster your opinions would be the same as
  ``stealing'' data.
  Our justice system could be crippled. There is only one company
  that had the foresight and diligence to record all of the court
  opinions that serve as precident. You would need to pay their
  monopoly prices to access the data payed for by US Taxpayers.
  The company, West Law, may soon be sold to a Canadian company
  and that means that most cherished American right to sue could
  effectively be controlled by Canadians.
  What makes this worse is that corporations have so much more
  power than people. Normally, that legal tradition works fine.
  But, in this situation a corporation can dispatch multiple
  people as employees. No one person may have seen every game
  played by Cal Ripken and Lou Gehrig, but a representative of
  Major League Baseball did. They would probably be cool enough to
  let you repeat the record breaking good news gratis. But would
  they be big enough to let you mention the fact that major league
  baseball was segregated before Jackie Robinson? If you don't
  establish it independently by seeing every player in every game,
  you can't repeat it.
  The threat of digital technology is a canard. Neither the
  printing press or the photocopier destroyed the lives of
  writers, publishers or researchers. In fact, they flourished
  because the liberal rules of fair use let them work. The
  database companies think that they'll be able to squeeze profits
  from all of the scoflaws out their stealing their hard won
  facts. In reality, they may find that they won't be able to do
  their jobs at all because someone else already owns the facts
  they want.
  The WIPO treaty is nothing less than an Orwellian plan for world
  domination by database companies. No one will be allowed to say
  anything unless they independently establish it as true. The
  delegation from the United States should do everything in its
  power to ensure that the right to speak freely throughout the
  world is not destroyed by their time in Geneva.
  Bio: Peter Wayner is a writer and consultant working on a book
  describing technical protection for copyright in the digital
  era. Every part of his business will be destroyed by the WIPO