In a landmark development for the multilateral intellectual property (IP) system, United States Patent and Trademark Office officials joined with other U.S. government negotiators at a diplomatic conference meeting in Beijing June 20-26, shepherding to completion a treaty that will strengthen the rights of film and television actors around the world. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Audiovisual Performances (AVP) Treaty, or the “Beijing Treaty,” is the first successful example of international norm-setting in the copyright area in more than fifteen years, and represents a major stride for the global recognition of IP rights in an increasingly digital world. It is also a tribute to the persistence and skill of U.S. negotiators, who have pursued an agreement since 2000, when a diplomatic conference on the treaty was suspended.
The Road to Beijing
Actors, singers, musicians, and dancers have historically enjoyed limited international protection for their performances recorded in audiovisual productions. The 1996 diplomatic conference (Dipcon) that adopted the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty updated standards of protection for recording artists and record producers, particularly in the digital environment. Unfortunately, an agreement could not be reached on how to protect audiovisual performances at the international level. The stumbling block was the wide diversity of national laws from country to country.
A breakthrough to the stalemate occurred in 2010, when the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) invited Member States to submit proposals for a transfer of rights provision that would be sufficiently flexible to adapt to different national laws and thus pave the way for the conclusion of a treaty. With substantial input from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), the United States submitted a proposal, and then worked with other delegations that had submitted proposals (Mexico, India) as well as with delegations from other major film-producing jurisdictions (particularly the European Union, Brazil and Nigeria) to find compromise language. Once agreement was reached and the compromise language approved by the SCCR in June 2011, the WIPO General Assembly voted to hold a diplomatic conference to complete the treaty.
The Chinese government offered to host the diplomatic conference in Beijing—a step supported by the United States as a means to strengthen China’s commitment to copyright. Members elected Liu Binjie, minister of the National Copyright Administration of China and president of the General Administration of Press and Publications, to be president of the conference.
Significance of the Beijing Treaty
The “Beijing Treaty” will strengthen the precarious position of performers in the audiovisual industry by providing a clearer international legal framework for their protection, particularly for performances that take place in the digital environment.
For American actors—represented by SAG and AFTRA—the treaty will increase global protection for performers and bring other countries legal norms into line with U.S. standards. It will not disrupt American motion picture companies’ global distribution networks. It represents a win-win for labor and industry, allowing them to work even more closely in fighting global piracy. Ratification by the United States and key trading partners will also give American stakeholders another mechanism to promote protection of the intellectual property in their films.
Our thanks and congratulations go out to the USPTO team, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Copyright Office, and our entire U.S. delegation for their hard work in advancing the rights of American performers—and setting the stage for a more global framework in protecting intellectual property rights in the 21st century.