A groundbreaking multilateral treaty to protect the intellectual property rights of film and music performers is expected to be signed at a conference underway in Beijing, Trevor Clarke, assistant director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization, announced at a press conference last week.
Once it is ratified, the treaty "will strengthen the economic rights of performers and provide potential extra income from their work", Clarke said.
It will potentially enable performers to share proceeds with producers on audiovisual revenues generated internationally, he noted.
"In the era of the Internet, protection of performers' IP rights is still lacking globally," said Yu Cike, director general of the Copyright Department of the National Copyright Administration.
"The expected treaty mainly addresses this issue," Yu said. For the first time it provides performers with protection in the digital environment, according to WIPO.
Copying and sharing performances - whether authorized or not - is much easier with today's powerful digital technology.
Half of the revenue from Hollywood productions comes from abroad. One-fifth of the proceeds for India's Bollywood movies are generated in international markets.
Yet performers are not now covered by any international agreement that gives them the right to authorize how and when, and at what price, their works can be used.
The conference that opens today and continues until June 26 "is the culmination of many years of negotiations among WIPO members to find a consensus and methods to achieve our common goals", Clark said.
"These goals are aimed at improving and harmonizing copyrights and related protection for audiovisual performers in an international legal framework," he said.
Road to Beijing
The negotiations began in 1996 and made "significant progress" at a WIPO meeting in 2000, with provisional agreement on 19 of 20 articles under discussion, he said.
The one issue that was left unresolved was the transfer of economic rights from performers to producers, said Michele Woods, director of the Copyright Law Division of WIPO's Culture and Creative Industries Sector.
The transfer is crucial to the overall business, enabling producers to trade with cinemas, broadcasting organizations and DVD distributors without seeking authorization from every individual performer.
Yet different systems around the world govern the deals and guarantee payment to performers, Woods said.
"So there was a need to harmonize or come up with language and an approach that would allow those different systems to continue to move forward and develop, and eventually lead to some levels of agreement on what would be permitted in this area," she said.
The so-called harmonization will then lead to payments and benefits to performers, she added.
An agreement was reached on the final article in Geneva last year with compromise wording that makes the provision on the transfer flexible to adapt to different national laws, paving the way for the treaty to be signed over the next week in Beijing.
The clause is also expected to help actors defend their rights against unauthorized use of their performances in television, film and videos.
"We saw increased interest in the adoption of this treaty from a number of developing countries that have fast-growing, emerging film industries," Woods noted.
She cited China, India and Nigeria as examples, saying that they have "made tremendous gains in their film industries and started to see the real need to protect their performers and their overall film industry".
Protection in China
China's current legal system has comprehensive protection for performers' rights and is mostly in line with the treaty to be concluded, Director General Yu said
Despite some differences, there is "no material contradiction" between them, he added.
While the country has a short IP history - its first copyright law was released in 1990 - the Chinese government has a strong, determined position on IP protection, he stressed.
The WIPO forum underway is the first time China has hosted a conference to adopt an international IP treaty since the New China was founded 1949, he noted.
"Hosting the event is significant as it increases exchanges with international organizations, promotes wide-ranging mutual understanding and trust among the international community and builds up an IP-friendly environment," he said.
"WIPO's decision to convene such an important meeting in Beijing shows its trust in and affirmation of our city," said Wang Yefei, deputy director general of the municipal bureau of press and publication.
"We will go all out to ensure sound services for the meeting," Wang said, adding that modern facilities for the international conference have set a record in scale and quality for the country.
The treaty will always be associated with the city of Beijing, Clarke said.
During the meeting, the annual China International Copyright Expo and the 2012 golden copyright awards ceremony co-organized by WIPO and NCA will also be held.