The Clinton administration came under increased pressure to boycott proposed global cyberspace copyright regulations this week after the chief executives of 11 US Internet and telecoms providers warned that the new rules would strangle their markets.
In an open letter to Clinton, the chief executives of 11 companies, including the two largest online service providers, America Online and Compuserve, argued that the government?s support for laws proposed by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) would expose US companies to multi-billion dollar liabilities that they cannot afford.
The chief executives' concerns centre on two articles of WIPO?s Basic Proposal For The Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, which would leave service providers responsible for any copyright infringements that occured using their service as a vehicle. They want to see an urgent reappraisal of the US government stance before a final vote is taken on the new laws during the three-week WIPO convention in Geneva which ends on 20 December.
In their letter, they complain: "Such potential violations would force us to monitor third party communications. Not only is this technically and economically impractical, it would also require us to violate individual citizens privacy rights."
They also argue that if they are required to police their services, it will drain money that might otherwise be spent on research and development. This would, they claim, leave US networking industry in the slow lane of the global information superhighway.
The service providers argue that the only beneficiaries of the new rules would be copyright-based industries like entertainment and music. Larry Clinton, a representative of the US Telephone Association, which helped draft the letter, said in Geneva: "It comes down to money. Copyright industries want the money and they don?t want another medium to grow."
If the Clinton administration bows to the demands, it will represent a total about-face: the government has been one of the strongest supporters of the WIPO proposals. But the service providers are bringing pressure to bear in Congress, particularly among the Republican majority, which they hope they can rally to block ratification of any agreement.
Other signatories to the letter were the chief executives of Bell Atlantic, Bell South, MCI Communications, Netcom, UUNet Technologies, Nynex, Prodigy, PSINet and MFS Communications.
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