Is WIPO Really The Right Organization To Fix Copyright?
from the probably-not dept
We recently pointed to a Larry Lessig speech, in which he argued that WIPO should lead efforts for copyright reform, noting that separate country governments were unlikely to lead copyright law in the right direction, since they tended to be beholden to the interests of legacy industries who benefited from strengthened copyright law. Lessig made a strong argument for why copyright law was broken, and certainly not up to handling today’s modern communication systems. But is WIPO really the right organization for this?
Ahmed Abdel Latif, an intellectual property expert and former Egyptian diplomat, has penned a response arguing that WIPO is not the right organization either, and noting its rather long history of being beholden to the same interests:
Past changes to the international copyright system, as embodied in the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886), have mostly resulted in the strengthening of copyright rules to the benefit of rights holders. All attempts to reform it to the benefit of users of copyrighted materials, such as consumers and developing countries, have either failed or been of limited effectiveness such as in the case of the Berne Appendix (1971) which contains special provisions for developing countries.
Why this dismal record? The answer is quite simple: for more than a hundred years, WIPO and its predecessors overseeing the Berne Convention were strongholds of intellectual property rights holders, such as authors and publishers, and their trade organisations. Even after becoming a United Nations agency in 1974, WIPO continued to promote a paradigm of intellectual property (IP) that tended to espouse the views of rights holders-based organisations in the developed world; a perspective even generally questioned by liberal economists all over and touted as perverse for innovation by the business academic world.
He then points out that while WIPO has, in the last couple of years, shown more of an openness to understanding the viewpoint of how greater copyright can harm society, it still has a really long way to go, and hasn’t shown to really have recognized this point of view yet. As an example, he points out that WIPO itself still supports a backwards and unproductive “war against piracy”:
WIPO’s website advertises, on its home page, the Sixth Congress against Piracy and Counterfeiting (2nd -3rd February 2011), which WIPO is organizing along with Interpol, the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy (BASCAP) and the International Trademarks Association (INTA). The first session has the chilling title of ‘Knowing the Enemy’. The question that is begged to be asked is whether WIPO?s ‘leading’ role in the war against piracy can be made fully compatible with its ‘lead’ role on in global copyright reform, particularly through ad hoc arrangements like the suggested ‘blue sky’ commission.
He argues that reform should come directly from member states. I’ve actually argued for something similar before. While I can understand why copyright holders talk about the importance of harmonized “global copyright,” given the lack of evidence as to the value of copyright, it seems that this is an area where comparative examples could be of great help. If different countries were free to implement whatever type of copyright law they felt was best (or, perhaps, no copyright law at all), we could finally have real data on how well copyright actually works at different levels in practice, rather than going with a purely faith-based approach that copyright (and greater and greater copyright) actually benefits the public through creating incentives for greater output.