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Copyright pact lays down global rules for Internet

GENEVA (Reuters) – A future in which you can watch the latest play at home on your computer or download the latest Madonna song from the Internet came one step closer Friday with the adoption of global pacts against piracy in cyberspace.

Some 800 negotiators from 160 nations, holed up for three weeks in a Geneva conference center dubbed the “bunker,” approved the new copyright pacts by consensus after wrangling about who owns what on the Internet.

When ratified by signatory states, the ground-breaking pacts will protect digitally transmitted sound recordings and the rights of their performers in the upcoming digital era.

“These treaties we’ve been working on will be the cornerstone of international economic law for the information and technological age of the 21st century,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Bruce Lehman.

He told a briefing that the new treaties, which have to be approved by national legislatures, would be the roadmap for copyrights on the information superhighway – but added that piracy in cyberspace was unlikely to be fully stamped out.

Conference chairman Jukka Liedes said that the agreements would mean, for instance, that singer Madonna would now be able to use the Internet to distribute her music, have copyrights for it for the first time in the digital era and be paid for it.

Two treaties, on literary and artistic works and on rights of performers and producers of music, were cleared for adoption Friday, while a third one on database producers, considered dead from the start, had been shelved.

The breakthrough came after heated battles on the conference sidelines pitting the multibillion-dollar Internet and online community against copyright industries like music and software.

Both groups were pleased with the outcome.

“We’ve now got the rights we needed to address this market,” said Nicholas Garnett, head of the music industry lobby group the Intl. Federation of the Phonographic Industry, whose 1,100 members include big record producers BMG, EMI, MCA, Sony Music and Polygram.

The $40-billion-a-year music industry says digital transmission of recordings could represent a $2 billion market.

An official of the Ad Hoc Coalition, a broad lobby group representing online giants and telecommunications companies, welcomed the decision.

“We’ve done a lot of good here for the Internet,” said Peter Harter of the Information Technology Assn. of America, a trade organization.

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