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Panel on WIPO and intellectual property

21 November, 2005

On 16 November IPJustice organised a panel on intellectual property and WIPO, chaired by Robin Gross.

Philip Petit of WIPO spoke about the history of WIPO, its relation to other organisations like WTO and its role in various treaties. He also welcomed NGOs participation in WIPO. According to him WIPO's mission is promoting IPR in order to accelerate economic and cultural development, yet IPR is not determined by WIPO but by its member countries. WIPO merely administers treaties. He also said copyright is no monopoly because copyright owners are free to donate their rights if they want to. Perhaps most telling was his statement that "as long as you have no legal right to your creation, it is not worth anything".

The second speaker was Alex Byrne of IFLA, who spoke about the importance of IPRs for the libraries. IFLA members are serving more than 2.5 billion users. Byrn expressed support for the treaty on Access to Knowledge (A2K) and review of the WIPO mandate, in order to recognise the rights of different stake-holders, including users. Libraries' concerns include the imbalance of IP laws favouring right holders, monopolisation of information, the inhibiting effect of IPR laws on new technologies and the shrinking of the public domain, but also the protection of indigenous knowledge.

He also noted that all creators are also users of others' copyrighted works, invoking Newton's metaphor about standing on the shoulders of giants. Copyright laws are increasingly a hindrance rather than a help to libraries, also in developed countries, and any future models should be based on the right to know.

Next spoke Georg Greve from FSFE. He spoke about the problematic nature of the term "intellectual property" and how much of the debate is ideologically charged, as if there were a "church of IPR". In his speech he underlined user rights and wondered how anyone could compare copying to real piracy, robbing and killing people. He also wondered whether it made any sense to have the same copyright rules for literature and software. He told the audience how FSFE had gotten involved with WIPO and how WIPO officials actually had been very helpful, even though sometimes appearing a bit afraid of NGOs. Perhaps key point was that IPR are not a god-given system but human-made, so it can be modified to work better. Perhaps WIPO could play a mediating role there. Like Byrn, Greve supported the A2K treaty.

The fourth speaker was Jamie Love of CPTech. He spoke about IP as a tool to support innovation. This could be done right or wrong, leading us to alternative futures. "Do we want to make everything controlled, patentable, with no commons, or should we rather pause to think what we really want with IP?" He spoke about the WIPO development agenda and suggested WIPO should be changed to optimise, rather than maximise IPR. Love also spoke extensively about the A2K treaty.

All in all the discussion was quite constructive, with all parties expressing interest in continuing cooperation and hoping NGOs would play a greater role in future discussions on IPR.

IP Justice information on the WIPO panel

(Contribution by Tapani Tarvainen, EDRI-member EFFI Finland)

NB! name of Alex Byrne corrected



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