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[InetBib] FWD: AllAfrica.com on A2K in Tunis
- Date: Fri, 18 Nov 2005 13:59:23 +0100
- From: "Harald Müller" <hmueller@xxxxxxx>
- Subject: [InetBib] FWD: AllAfrica.com on A2K in Tunis
Zur allgemeinen Information.
Dr. Harald Müller
Max-Planck-Institut für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht /
Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law
and International Law / Library
Im Neuenheimer Feld 535; D-69120 Heidelberg
Phone: +49 6221 482 219; Fax: +49 6221 482 593
Ouch! 'Intellectual Property Everywhere, All the Time'
Highway Africa News Agency (Grahamstown)
November 17, 2005
Posted to the web November 17, 2005
Imagine a world where absolutely everything is owned - and sold to
those who can afford it. Every person would be a market. There would
be nothing freely available in the public domain. Knowledge and
culture could only be learnt if you paid for it.
This scenario, presented as a nightmare to all except lawyers, was
painted at a civil society session at the World Summit on the
Information Society in Tunis on Wednesday.
"Intellectual property everywhere, all the time," is how the prospect
The spectre was presented at the session as part of several warnings
that, the world was gradually seeing an increase in the private
ownership of intellectual properties. In 20 years time, the results
would be bad for humanity.
Participants at the debate discussed issues such as the real purpose
of laws on copyright, patents and trademarks - and their long term
At heart, the issue is akin to debating the rights to make and sell
specific medicines - and how to take account of the interests of the
inventors, the companies, the patients, and governments that are
supposed to ensure healthcare for citizens.
It is about confirming the power of ownership rights onto a person or
a company - in this way enabling them to set prices for distribution
of their intellectual property.
The rationale for copyright is supposed to be that this protection
encourages an individual to be creative, or invest in creativity,
because it assures that they are rewarded. However, the current
system is not without problems.
Companies complain that consumers are ripping them off by making
illegal copies - for example of music or movies. Creative people are
certain the companies are exploiting them. An example cited in the
Tunis debate was Jamaica, whose reggae music conquered the world -
with very little benefit to the country.
Librarians and scientists say the system means that only those who
can pay for it can access expensive copyrighted information and
culture. Meanwhile, indigenous people say their knowledge is taken
and sold without any benefit to them.
There is also the argument that all human creativity draws on the
work of past generations, and that people should therefore
contribute, freely, something back to the common pool for the future.
Each party has a point, and the World Intellectual Property
Organisation (Wipo), represented in the Tunis debate, is a major
forum faced with trying to balance the different interests when it
comes to disputes.
Wipo is a powerful United Nations agency representing governments -
its judgements, for example on patents, are accepted by some 120
countries. The body also deals with matters like brand names,
software and cultural content, and the decisions are then used to
define what companies like to call "piracy".
Meanwhile, independently of Wipo, the most powerful economy in the
world, the USA is signing trade agreements with various countries
that put very strong property protections on intellectual products.
Even in its own jurisdiction, the USA has extended the time limit of
copyright from 14 to 70 years after the death of the person who
created the knowledge. This measure has nothing to do with
stimulating the genius of the creator of Mickey Mouse, the long-dead
Walt Disney, but everything to do with the profits of the company
that now bears his name.
But the issues are more serious than debating whether Mickey Mouse
should by now be part of global human heritage with people free to
use the famous image without fearing prosecution for copyright
infringement. Rather, the issues are about whether a development
agenda should drive decisions about who can claim copyright and under
The Tunis discussion, for example, touched on the question of
licensing drugs to counter Bird Flu, with copyright provisions
whereby pharmaceutical companies could not make profits at the
expense of critical medicine reaching affected people.
It was pointed out that this case refers to a particular crisis
however, and the bigger issue was whether weakening intellectual
property rights should only be in exceptional cases.
Wipo is being nudged towards a different position by a group of 14
countries, including Kenya and South Africa, who call themselves the
"Friends of Development". They argue that development considerations
should take priority when deciding on intellectual property rights.
It's not only developing countries, who take this view. The Tunis
discussion heard strong arguments that even in the North, software
developers were often inhibited because of patents on other software
that they needed to use in creating new products. Copyright gave
money to companies but sometimes at huge cost to progress.
Tunis heard renewed calls for an international treaty to be called
Access to Knowledge (A2K), that would maximize the benefits to
society as a whole. There were also proposals that people should
contribute knowledge and content free to the public domain, as was
happening in the case of the voluntary online encyclopedia,
Participants suggested that the archives of public broadcasters,
funded historically with public funds, should also be treated as a
public good and made available without charge.
Through suggestions like these, and the lobby for a development
agenda in Wipo, the nightmare scenario might just be avoided.
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