from the not-the-right-to-lock-up-speech dept
The folks at the human rights organization Article 19, who are focused on protecting free speech around the globe (as per Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), are using today — which is technically “World Intellectual Property Day” — to set forth their Principles on Freedom of Expression and Copyright, also known as The Right To Share.
These Principles seek to establish a framework which can be used to ensure firstly, that the right to freedom of expression and the ability to share knowledge and culture are fully protected in the digital age; and secondly, that copyright interests do not unduly restrict them. The Principles also seek to promote positive measures which foster both the free flow of information and ideas and greater access to knowledge and culture on the Internet and beyond.
The Principles were developed as a result of concerns that the fundamental human right to freedom of expression, guaranteed in UN and regional human rights instruments and nearly every national constitution, has been increasingly eroded on the grounds of protecting copyright. The Internet has been at the centre of an alarming expansion of copyright claims at the expense of freedom of expression and, more generally, the protection of human rights. These Principles affirm that the right to freedom of expression and the free flow of information and ideas cannot be seen as marginal to such developments.
Freedom of expression – that is, the freedom of all people to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds – is the foundation of diversity within cultural expression, creativity and innovation. It is, therefore, an essential part of the right to participate freely in the cultural life of society, enjoying the arts and sharing in scientific advancement: the very benefits that copyright exists to promote.
The full document is well worth a read. It’s available in a variety of languages, though I’ve embedded the English version below. It is truly unfortunate that, over the years, certain copyright maximalists have increasingly used copyright as a tool to stifle free speech and to lock up speech, when, as the principles note, its purpose is supposed to be to encourage and enable more speech. If we start from that principle, we can start to look more closely at what a more reasonable policy might look like, and it’s great to see the folks at Article 19 jumping into the fray.
Along those lines, it is rather silly to see something like “World Intellectual Property Day,” because “intellectual property” — or, more specifically, patents, copyrights and trademarks (leaving aside the other smaller categories) — should never be seen as an end in and of itself, or something to celebrate in and of itself. The point (officially speaking, though some argue there were truly ulterior motives) from the beginning in the US was supposed to be that it would be a tool to “promote the progress” (with copyright and patents) or to act as a form of consumer protection (with trademarks). Tragically, we’ve strayed far from those ideals, where the concept of locking up and shutting down ideas, expression and the like is considered a perfectly reasonable action under today’s laws, in part because the pursuit of “intellectual property” for the sake of “intellectual property.” It is this distortion that is such a big part of the problem in the various debates held on the topic. Moving us back to some basic principles of free speech and looking at what best promotes free speech, open expression and creativity seems like a very good idea, rather than automatically assuming that “intellectual property” itself is the goal.