December 2, 1996 1:20 PM ET

U.N. agency kicks off intellectual property summit
By Maria Seminerio

  The World Intellectual Property Organization, a United Nations agency composed of officials from 160 different nations, today begins a three-week conference to revise international copyright laws in the wake of the Internet revolution.

The conference, being held in Geneva, marks the first attempt at updating the U.N. agency's intellectual property protocols in 35 years, according to WIPO officials. Treaties delineating protections for literary and artistic works, whether in the form of text, audio or video, and for database producers are up for debate, WIPO officials said.

An article of one proposed treaty would outlaw the manufacture and sale of so-called "protection-defeating devices," defined as any device, product or component incorporated into a device or product for the purpose of circumventing technology licenses, a key area of concern for software makers.

Another article calls for authors to maintain control of when and how their works are reproduced, another sticky area for producers of online content. The treaty leaves open a window of interpretation for individual U.N. member nations, stating, "Some countries may consider that temporary reproduction [of content on the Internet] does not fall under the right of reproduction, whereas other countries may take a contrary interpretation."

However, the proposal calls for an eventual single worldwide standard for content reproduction.

"The need for a uniform interpretation is dictated by the need to secure the functioning of the copyright system in a digital future," according to an article of the proposed treaty.

The proposed treaty also declares that computer databases constitute intellectual creations in and of themselves, but would not extend copyright protection to materials within databases.

More information on the conference is available on the WIPO World Wide Web site.

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