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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.
An Orwellian Database Disaster (or) WIPO Suction
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
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
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