Back in April, we pointed out that the MPAA was working overtime to screw over the blind
in the negotiations for a WIPO treaty to make it easier for the blind and those with vision impairment to access works for the blind. They'd already
succeeded in screwing over the deaf
by getting them excluded from the treaty, despite it initially being for both. Over the past two months, however, the MPAA tried to go on a charm offensive going on and on about how much they really, really liked blind people
and wanted to help get a treaty passed, even somehow getting the National Federation for the Blind to throw their own members under the bus by issuing a joint statement
claiming to support the treaty.
However, over the past week, the reports coming out of the treaty negotiations in Marrakesh have been consistent about one thing: the MPAA's influence over the US negotiators has been immense, and the US negotiators have been the single source blocking the completion of the treaty by arguing to gut the entire treaty, making it next to useless. They've fought against fair use. They've fought against exceptions to copyright. It's gotten so bad that even the mainstream press has picked up on the MPAA's direct assault on the blind. The Washington Post has an article all about the MPAA's attempts to block and change the treaty
such that it is effectively useless.
But the treaty, years in the making, could be in jeopardy because of unresolved differences between advocates for the blind and the Motion Picture Association of America, which says the accord could undermine protections important for filmmakers, publishers and other major industries.
Of course, you might wonder why the MPAA is so concerned about a treaty for the blind, which is mostly focused on written materials, since that shouldn't impact the MPAA very much. The answer is what we've said for years
: copyright maximalists will fight against any treaty that recognizes the rights of people to push back against maximalism through things like fair use. And the MPAA isn't even coy about this:
“What happens here could affect other future treaties,” said Chris Marcich, who is in charge of dealing with the negotiations for the MPAA and its international wing, the Motion Picture Association.
Yes, how dare the public have their rights supported during treaty negotiations about
what they can do with works they own. Horrors.
The article also highlights that the MPAA was instrumental in getting the negotiators to drop more expansive fair use rights of the public included, insisting instead on only allowing the "three step test" from the Berne Convention included. As we've discussed in the past
the three step test is merely one
way in which a country can protect the public's rights to limitations and exceptions in copyright law, but maximalists like to claim it's the only way, because if you read it in the strictest sense, it severely limits fair use, because a use fails the "three step test" if it "unreasonably prejudices the legitimate interests of the rights holder." In other words, if the rights holder doesn't like it, no fair use for you. Amazingly, even this
test is now not enough for the MPAA:
But the MPAA says the protections afforded by the three-step test are still too weak and wants them to be more effective. Moreover, Hollywood is strongly resisting language in the draft that mirrors the concept of “fair use,” long embodied in U.S. copyright law. Fair use says that copyright material can be used without permission in certain circumstances, such as for nonprofit educational purposes.
Related to all of this, KEI has received, via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, all emails between MPAA lobbyists
and the negotiators from the USPTO (who are handling much of the negotiation). It's worth noting, by the way, that the key person at the USPTO (and the person addressed in many of these emails) is Shire Perlmutter, currently the Chief Policy Officer and Director for International Affairs at the USPTO, but prior to that was the Executive VP of IFPI (the international version of of the RIAA) and before that, was VP and Associate General Counsel for Intellectual Property Policy at Time Warner... a member of the MPAA when it owned Warner Bros.
Included in the documents is an incredible attack on fair use by the MPAA, sent in April of this year, just as the MPAA was insisting it wanted to help the blind, and at the same time that the MPAA's Ben Sheffner was, ridiculously, pretending that the MPAA was one of the world's biggest defenders
of fair use. Yet, at the very same time, they were promoting a document that claimed the following about fair use:
As has been pointed out by various commentators, open-ended systems such as fair use under Sec. 107 US Copyright Act may raise issues with the three-step test, in particular the first and possibly third step.... Consequently, it is neither necessary nor would it be reasonable or desirable in view of the mentioned difficulties to include an express reference to fair use or fair dealing in the proposed instrument.
A specific reference to fair use or fair dealing could also be misleading for it could be understood as an invitation to implement the instrument in such a way, whether or not it sits well with the particular legal system of the Contracting Party in question. However, any wholesale introduction of a particular legal feature, be it fair use, fair dealing or a closed list, would be contrary to the intended effect of the discretion that Contracting Parties may exercise with regard to the way of implementing their treaty obligations....
At a time when the fair use doctrine is considered by many as a cure for all ills, this would clearly be the wrong sign....
Consequently, for all the foregoing reasons, the reference to specific ways of implementation such as fair use or fair dealing should be omitted from the proposed instrument.
These are the defenders
of fair use? These are the folks who claim they're trying to help the blind? That's all a lie. And the quotes above are just a few. There are a lot more of that nature. The MPAA wants to screw over the blind out of a fear that people might realize that fair use and other rights of the public might just be more important than an artificial government monopoly system to inflate their bottom lines.
Later in the documents, you can see the cozy relationship between the key government players, Perlmutter and Justin Hughes (another well-known maximalist supporter, now in the government) and MPAA members and lobbyists. There's also a discussion about how three steps in Berne only applies to certain types of copyright rights (reproduction rights), but does not apply to other things like public performances, and how their wishes are to go even further and make sure the very limiting 3 steps applies to everything
. It also shows that the US government, via Perlmutter and Hughes, helped propose back to the MPAA how they might achieve their goals in the agreement. In an email from Scott Martin at Paramount to Perlmutter:
I suggested to Justin the concept that I heard from both you and Karyn Temple Claggett: membership in the VIP Treaty be limited to countries that have ratified and implemented the WCT. Perhaps if there is resistance from non-ratifiers, the US/EU could then proposal a new Article Ebis that would apply only to countries which want to ratify the VIP Treaty but which have not yet ratified and implemented WCT.
Justin seemed intrigued by the idea and mused that perhaps the Japanese proposal for Article E could be expanded to cover this separate goal.
There are also cases where people, such as Time Warner employees, were sending language they wanted inserted directly to Hughes at his request. At one point, Hughes emails Bradley Silver at Time Warner with a simple request:
Could you just send me the whole language?
That was after Silver specifically asked Hughes to "tweak" the language in one section.
Basically, the documents make it abundantly clear that the MPAA is trying to keep fair use/fair dealing way out of the agreement, and then seeking to undermine things even further by putting in place an extreme version of the three step test -- a test that already goes way too far in limiting the public's rights to make use of works. It further shows that the MPAA's public stance that it's in support of a treaty for the blind is hogwash. It's in support of a treaty that strips away many of the rights for the blind.