The US's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Betty E. King, recently gave a press conference in Geneva
to talk about a variety of issues. What caught our attention, not surprisingly, was the discussion on intellectual property issues, which seemed to raise a lot more questions than it answered. Towards the end of her talk, she basically complained about WIPO, and how various developing countries are hijacking WIPO to focus on "development," at the expense of things like patents and copyright. She says that she, and the US government, are pro development, but not if it comes at the expense of patents and copyrights
Of course, that makes no sense. The whole point of patents and copyright is supposed to be to create incentives for development
. So development should always
be at the core of the discussion. It's not, as King implies, that the two should be in conflict. Instead, if the two are in conflict, it suggests that there's something wrong
with the way our intellectual property laws are working. What's really scary is she seems to think that more and longer patents automatically means better results:
Now long before I got here the United States has been stationing its experts around the world to help more countries be better able to apply for patents. We have our patent officers in our Embassy in Egypt as well as in other places around the world, and that has worked because we have seen an increase in the number of patent applications from a broader range of countries. That is good. However, the group in Geneva seems hell-bent on shortening these patents and creating more exceptions.
My point is if you create too many exceptions to a rule, you may as well not have the rule.
The problem is that she doesn't seem to realize that those exceptions
actually have been shown, time and time again, to improve overall development. Which is what she should be in favor of supporting. But, it quickly becomes clear that King is simply unfamiliar with the history of copyright or pretty much any of the details of how intellectual property works, when she makes the laughable claim that exceptions to copyright will mean we'll have no more books
While we certainly want access to books for a lot of people around the world, I think denying the authors of these books their rights, or abrogating the rights of these authors, would mean that eventually we will never have a book.
Someone should send King a study on the history of copyright in the US, including the fact that, during its developmental stage, the US refused to respect the copyrights of any foreign book... and how, despite that, Charles Dickens made a ton
of money in the US by using the cheap copies of his books that were abundant to fund lavish tours of the US which were quite profitable for him. There are ways other than copyright to make money. And there are many
reasons, other than copyright, to write books. It's kind of scary when an official so high up in US government policy circles doesn't seem to know that.
Later, in the questions, a reporter goes back to King's statements about WIPO, and references how ACTA was done outside of WIPO. We've actually discussed this before, pointing out that the reason the US and a few other countries went outside of WIPO was because those countries were upset that WIPO was actually listening to countries like India and Brazil, and paying attention to the actual evidence
that showed you could actually create more culture and more opportunities by pushing back on copyright expansionism. The reporter asks whether or not ACTA means that WIPO is becoming irrelevant, and she responds that basically if the "Development Agenda Group" keeps pushing that darned "development" angle over intellectual property rights, then it will "kill" WIPO:
I think the people at WIPO are aware that without successful conclusions to these longstanding negotiations the people who apply for patent protection may find ways around WIPO. That is obviously the sort of existential threat to WIPO. I think the Director General understands that very clearly. But we're also in an era where you have emerging economies that want to have their voices heard. It is important to note that the Development Agenda Group is led by Egypt, Brazil, India and Indonesia -- countries that themselves have patents to protect but also have thriving businesses in generic drugs.
But if we get to a system where the protections of patents are abrogated in the name of development then we certainly will kill that organization.
In other words, if these countries who are concerned about economic development don't get in line and accept draconian US patent and copyright laws that will significantly curtail development in those countries, then the US will move to shut down the venue in which they negotiate such things, and focus instead on agreements like ACTA that shut them out. How nice.