Bridges Weekly Trade News DigestVolume 16Number 25 • 27th June 2012

WIPO Members Sign Treaty Protecting Audiovisual Performances

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After twelve years of discussion, members of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) successfully finalised a new treaty on Tuesday in Beijing aimed at providing copyright protection for performers of audiovisual works.

The Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances is the first international copyright treaty concluded under the auspices of the organisation since 1996, when members signed the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT), a deal that updated international standards of protection for sound performances but excluded audiovisual performances.

According to WIPO, the new treaty would “strengthen the precarious position of performers in the audiovisual industry by providing a clearer international legal framework for their protection.” It would also - for the first time - give performers protection in the digital environment, WIPO said in a release at the outset of the negotiations.

“The conclusion of the Beijing Treaty is an important milestone toward closing the gap in the international rights system for audiovisual performers and reflects the collaborative nature of the multilateral process,” WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said after the negotiations.

“The international copyright framework will no longer discriminate against one set of performers,” Gurry added.

Scope of treaty

The main breakthrough in the negotiations was achieved last year, when members agreed on a previously contentious provision concerning the transfer of rights from performers of audiovisual works - such as film actors - to producers. (See Bridges Weekly, 29 June 2011) In 2000, a WIPO diplomatic conference on the subject was suspended due to disagreements on the issue of transfer of rights. (See Bridges Weekly, 7 December 2011)

The treaty now gives its parties the choice between an automatic transfer of rights to producers once a performer has agreed to have their performances recorded, or to make this transfer subject to the performer’s consent.

It will also permit performers to potentially share in the proceeds that currently go to producers, and allow performers to object to any modification of their performances should they be “prejudicial to [their] reputation.”

Other benefits for performers include the exclusive right of authorising the direct or indirect reproduction of their performances, even in the digital environment, and the exclusive right to authorise the distribution, rental, and broadcasting of their performances.

Importantly, the new treaty also allows contracting parties to “provide for the same kinds of limitations or exceptions with regard to the protection of performers as they provide for, in their national legislation,  in connection with the protection of copyright in literary and artistic works.”

Governments, industry groups welcome agreement

The deal was welcomed by government officials and industry groups alike, with EU Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Michel Barnier noting that “actors are ambassadors for cultural expression and exchange.”

“They have to be able to earn their living from their artistic contribution, because without the means to express themselves, no cultural expression would be possible,” Barnier continued.

“The Beijing Treaty strengthens the position of film and television performers by providing a clear, international framework for protection of their IP rights,” David Kappos, Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) commented. “This is critical as audiovisual works are increasingly promoted in a digital environment.”

International Federation of Actors President Agnete Haaland took a similar stance, noting that the treaty “will make a clear difference in the lives of performers by helping us to get paid for use of our work, and give us more control over our image and performance.”

The treaty will enter into force once it has been ratified by 30 contracting parties.

ICTSD reporting.

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