ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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India and the Proposed Treaty for the Protection of Broadcasting Organisations

This paper analyses key provisions of the Proposed Treaty for the Protection of Broadcasting Organisations, considered at the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights’ 33rd Session. The key question is whether (and on what terms) India needs the Broadcasters Treaty. Existing digital divides make traditional broadcasting the primary means of mass communication in India. Rampant signal piracy hampers the programming output of traditional broadcasters. As India progresses in its unrelenting pursuit of becoming an information society, it cannot afford its traditional broadcasters withering.

A robust broadcasting industry is the linchpin of every democratic society. Although constitutionally broad-casting (electronic media) is not part of the fourth estate, its importance is best described by veteran British statesman, Tony Benn: “Broadcasting is really too important to be left to the broadcasters” (Telegraph 2014). In recognition of the immense importance of broadcasting, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) convened a symposium in Manila in 1997 to discuss the rights of broadcasters over their signals. The symposium led to a consensus that the existing international regime was inadequate to combat signal piracy in the broadcasting industry. The revenues of traditional broadcasters were dwindling due to piracy, which severely impaired their function as public service organisations that procured and consequently disseminated quality content. While the delegations agreed to revise the existing international regime to protect the rights of broadcasters, there was no consensus on the work plan. The Manila Symposium was followed by another symposium held by Latin American and Caribbean countries in Cancun, Mexico, in 1998.

These two symposia ultimately led to the establishment of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCRs), a committee mandated to examine harmonisation of laws relating to copyright and related rights. At the first meeting of the SCCR, with the notable exception of India, there was substantial consensus amongst the delegations in favour of updating the rights of broadcasters. Since then, broadcasters have been battling it out at least biannually in Geneva for an international treaty that protects their signals against piracy—the Broadcasters Treaty. However, after nearly 19 years, the treaty is yet to see the light of day due to a political stalemate on key provisions. Within the precincts of the WIPO, no other intellectual property (IP) treaty has witnessed such protracted negotiations as the Broadcasters Treaty.

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