Member states of WIPO agree to new worldwide treaty on trademarks
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The World Intellectual Property Organization announced the successful conclusion on March 28 of weeks of talks in Singapore seeking to modernize the terms of the 1994 Trademark Law Treaty. (link) The new agreement will be known as the Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks. The WIPO said the treaty "creates a dynamic regulatory framework for brand rights" and recognizes "brands are no longer confined to stickers or labels on goods; today, the brand stands for the product's identity." Streamlined electronic administrative procedures are expected to assist brand owners worldwide, and developing nations will receive technical assistance to provide the institutional support necessary. WIPO Director General Kamil Idris said it is "the first international treaty in the field of intellectual property in the new century." This was also the first WIPO diplomatic conference hosted in Asia. Separately, in England, two music titans by the name of Apple began slugging it out in court (link) — a 1991 deal between the Beatles' Apple Corps. and Apple Computer allowed the U.S. company to sell electronic data transfers under the Apple brand but not music. The Singapore Treaty should help prevent such brand conflicts from having to be subject to multiple costly legal efforts in WIPO's many member countries.
On March 29, the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property held an oversight hearing on "Remedies for Small Copyright Claims." The question whether a copyright small claims court would assist victims of infringement has been raised by the independent issue of orphan works. Testimony represented authors, illustrators, musicians and photographers, exploring the general concept of a simple and convenient way for creators to enforce usage fees of just a few hundred or thousand dollars. Illustrators' Partnership of America founding board member Brad Holland worried this could provide an end-run for deliberate infringers to avoid the risk of statutory penalties. Future of Music Coalition Executive Director Jenny Toomey emphasized the proven benefits of ownership databases, and encouraged consideration of innovative solutions in addition to penalties. Many practical suggestions for an effective process were sketched out by Authors Guild Executive Director Paul Aiken and American Society of Media Photographers General Counsel and Managing Director Victor S. Perlman. Aiken also shared a remarkable survey showing strong support for small claims resolution, even by authors who have been sued for infringement. After describing the routine disenfranchisement suffered by photographers, Perlman said, "this is one of those all too rare situations where Congress can really do 'the right thing...'"
Podcasts of debates held at the March 15-16 Entertainment Technology Policy Summit have been put online by the event's host — the Consumer Electronics Association — featuring such significant IP players as MPAA Chairman/CEO Dan Glickman and Electronic Frontier Foundation Senior IP Attorney Fred von Lohmann. (link) CEA President/CEO Gary Shapiro said, "It's clear that there is passion from all sides as we reach this defining moment for the future of technology and entertainment. These sessions capture that passion and make clear the challenge our industries are facing."
Department of Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez supported Apple Computer's protests against legislation making its way through French Parliament. (link) The proposed law would require secure music downloads to be compatible with all portable digital music players. Because this would negate Apple's proprietary iTunes security, the company accused France of "state-sponsored piracy." Gutierrez said, "any time that we believe that intellectual property rights are being violated, we need to speak up and in this case, the company is taking the initiative ... I would compliment that company because we need for companies to also stand up for their intellectual property rights ... If we all do that, have the government work with other governments, have companies defend and protect their own intellectual property, then we'll be able to make more progress on a worldwide basis."
German lawmakers approved new penalties against illegal downloading on March 23, to go into effect Jan. 1, 2007 — two years in prison for a personal infringement, and five years for commercial infringement. (link) Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries said, "The aim is not now to slap handcuffs on downloaders in the school playground," but infringement has become so open that back-to-school nights sometimes end with illegal film downloads shown in the gym.
IFPI Hong Kong dropped a suit against Yeung Chun-choi after the accused infringer provided an apology, a fine, and a promise to better monitor whether his daughters were engaged in illegal downloading. The civil suit had been the first since a local court ruled ISP's must reveal personal information on alleged pirates to plaintiffs. An IFPI statement said, "This will hopefully serve as an important message to other parents in Hong Kong to check what their children are using the family computer for."
Randolph Hobson Guthrie pleaded guilty in Mississippi Southern District Court in January (link) and was sentenced on March 24 to the maximum of five years, minus 15 months for time already served in China, where Guthrie was apprehended for DVD piracy. (link)
On March 27, the MPAA announced police raided two CD/DVD warehouses in Russia, confiscating over 5 million illegal discs. (link)
2929 Entertainment is continuing its experiment of releasing films to theater, DVD and TV at the same time with the documentary Herbie Hancock: Possibilities, available later this month. Critics of the release model slammed 2929's first release — Bubble by Steven Soderbergh — for only grossing $145,000 in theaters. The company countered that the gross was similar to other low-budget indie movies, except in their case, the choice to see it at one of 32 art houses was made by customers who knew it was available on DVD.