Examination of the WCT

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The WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) is a special agreement accepted under the Berne Convention that entered into force on March 6, 2002. It is the first international treaty that provides copyright protection to computer programs and to databases (compilations of data or other material). According to the WCT, computer programs are protected as literary works regardless of their mode or form of their expression, whereas databases have to constitute an intellectual creation by reason of the selection or arrangement of their contents. This means that the material of the databases have to be selected or arranged in an original way in order for the database to be protected by the treaty.

The WCT further provides that the contracting countries must prohibit both the circumvention of technological measures used by copyright holders to protect works and the unauthorized modification of "rights management information” -- in other words, data that identify works or their authors, and that are necessary for the management of their rights.

In addition, the WCT provides authors some important rights in addition to those they have under the Berne Convention alone: (1) the exclusive right to distribute their works, (2) the exclusive right to rent their works (a right that will be discussed in more detail in Module 4), and (3) the exclusive right to communicate their works to the public.

Some provisions of the WCT have been heavily criticized as being overbroad -- for example, the requirement that member countries prohibit the circumvention of technical protection measures even where such circumvention is used for purposes that would be considered "fair" or otherwise lawful under general copyright principles. In addition, the WCT has been faulted for its failure to take into account the differing stages of economic and cultural among its member countries.

Note that the WCT is open only to Members of WIPO and to the European Community. However, the Assembly constituted by the Treaty may decide to allow other intergovernmental organizations to become parties to the treaty.