The WIPO Copyright Treaty was passed in 1996 through the World Intellectual Property Organization, an agency created by the United Nations. The WIPO was preceded in its role as an international copyright watchdog by the BIRPI (Bureaux Internationaux Reunis pour la Protection de la Propriete Intellectuelle), an agency created in 1893 for the purpose of administering the Berne Convention.
The Berne Convention resulted in the Treaty passed in 1886 which provided the first wide-ranging legal framework for international copyright protection. At this time, membership in the community for international copyright protection was limited by the United States’ objection to several of the Treaty’s clauses, and by the members’ adherence to Eurocentric, colonialist ideology excluding less developed nations from the coverage of international copyright protection.
The need for a modernized system for enforcing international copyright was answered in 1970 with the passage of the Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization, which created the WIPO as a section of the United Nations. There are 184 nations which are members of the WIPO. The WIPO Treaty went into effect for international copyright on March 6, 2002, with the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization acting as the depositary for the Treaty.
The WIPO Copyright Treaty is geared toward the language of Section 20 of the Berne Convention, and is addressed to nations which are signatory to the 1971 revision of the Berne Convention. The passage of the WIPO Treaty was motivated by the consideration that prior measures for establishing the framework of international copyright protection did not include the creators of computer programs and databases under the same privileges given to the authors of original literary works.
As such, it stipulated that computer programs and databases which could be demonstrated to have necessary levels of originality and authorship could be granted protections, including exclusive rights to publication, rental, and communication of works.
Having enumerated that these rights existed under international copyright law, the WIPO Treaty sought to ensure that individual nations signatory to its provisions would provide adequate legal measures for enforcing them. In order to protect the systems for preventing and recognizing instances of copyright infringement already embedded in digital programs and devices, the WIPO Treaty prohibited any action taken toward blocking or altering such systems.
In the United States, the ratification of the WIPO Copyright Treaty was effected with the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by Congress in 1998. The Treaty became a governing standard for members of the European Union by decision of that body’s governing council resulting from a March, 2000 decision. Adherence to the policy in European Union member states is enforced by European Union “Directives,” the relevant decisions in which are Directive 96/9/EC, which extends the definition of protected works to databases, Directive 91/250/EC, which covers computer programs, and Directive 2001/29/EC, which covers tampering with program copyright safeguards. Though Canada signed the Treaty, its ratification was blocked by continued legislative debate.