Commerce Secretary William Daley, Silicon Graphics chief executive Robert Bishop, and Time Warner chief executive Gerald Levin, among others, will speak at the two conferences on an array of topics--ranging from ensuring that customer data remains confidential to preventing theft of music and movies transmitted over the Net.
With e-commerce generating billions of dollars in revenues--and projected to grow in the coming years--there is increasing pressure on policy makers and company executives to establish a legal framework that fits the new economy.
Historically, the United States and the European Union have not seen eye to eye on issues surrounding e-commerce. Recently, the two hit a stalemate over the practice of exempting U.S. Web sites from strict new privacy laws that prevent the collection of European Internet users' personal information. That conflict, however, is not on the agenda of either conference.
"There's no doubt that e-commerce is going to be the engine for economic growth in the next 10 to 20 years, and getting the rules right to ensure that governments don't create impediments is extremely important," said Neil Turkewitz, executive vice president of the Recording Industry Association of America, a trade group that represents the major U.S. record companies.
Simplifying global e-commerce
The first conference, sponsored by the Global Business Dialogue on Electronic Commerce, will take place on Monday in Paris. Chief on the agenda is encouraging the international community to ratify treaties passed in late 1996 by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a body affiliated with the United Nations that helps coordinate patent and copyright laws throughout the world.
So far, only about ten nations, including the United States, have ratified the WIPO treaties, which essentially set up ways to enforce intellectual property rights in cyberspace. Thirty countries must ratify the measure for it to take effect.
The conference also will cover ways to foster wider adoption of e-commerce among consumers, including the following:
Establishing an international forum similar to the Better Business Bureau that can mediate disputes between customers and online businesses, particularly when the parties are located in separate countries.
Extending a moratorium on tariffs placed on goods sold online when the customer is in one country and the seller is in another.
Helping to prevent security breaches.
"For this market to take off, you've got to have a lot stronger feeling by consumers that this is a safe, well-lighted marketplace," said Scott Cooper, manager for technology policy at Hewlett-Packard, which will be participating in the forum.
Time Warner's Levin will speak on several panels, as will Sanford Litvack, a senior executive vice president at Walt Disney. Government officials from France and Canada also plan to participate.
Securing rights online
The second conference, which takes place Tuesday through Thursday in Geneva, is sponsored by WIPO, and is expected to draw about 600 attendees, a WIPO official said. It is focused more closely on helping content owners police their rights online.
"What people use the Internet for is to look at copyrighted materials," said Tod Cohen, vice president and counsel for new media at the Motion Picture Association of America and a participant at the WIPO conference. "As [the Internet] expands internationally, there's no doubt there will be international needs to meet."
Since passing the copyright treaties, most of WIPO's Internet-related work has focused on eliminating "cybersquatting," the practice of registering domain names containing popular business names and then selling them at an inflated price. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), appointed by the Clinton Administration to oversee key Net policy, is now considering the proposal. For its part, the Motion Picture Association of America also is seeking a spot on the ICANN board of directors.
Other speakers at the conference include Andreas Schmidt, chief executive of AOL Europe; Hilary Rosen, chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America; Esther Dyson, interim chair of ICANN; and government officials from the United States and the European Union.