Last fall we wrote about some surprising allegations that Francis Gurry, the director of WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization -- a part of the UN), had surreptitiously taken DNA samples
from employees while trying to determine who had sent him anonymous letters. This is the same Gurry who was already involved in highly questionable scandals involving ignoring UN sanctions against both North Korea
, to send them computers, which WIPO idiotically believed those countries would use to bolster their local patent systems. Because, when you think of Iran and North Korea, I'm sure you think about their patent systems.
There had been some public efforts by a few members of Congress to oppose Gurry's re-election to WIPO because of these infractions, but all that seemed for naught a couple months ago when Gurry was re-nominated
. It's not final that he'll remain as director, but it's almost entirely assured. A few weeks ago, however, I saw that stories of the DNA collection had resurfaced, mainly in a blog post by noted patent lawyer and blogger Gene Quinn. While Quinn and I disagree about nearly everything patent related -- sometimes angrily -- his blog is still a worthwhile read, and this original story had caught my attention. Quinn had a copy of the "Report of Misconduct" filed by James Pooley, one of Gurry's deputies, going into much more detail on Gurry's actions with regards to the illegal DNA collection, and calling into serious question Gurry's ability to lead WIPO. You can read much more about Pooley's charges in a Fox News report
. However, you can no longer read the report or Quinn's analysis of it
because WIPO threatened Quinn with criminal charges
for posting it.
I had actually opened Quinn's post -- and the files he posted -- back when he first put them up, but set them aside to revisit later, and like many stories I hope to get to, I never actually wrote about them. While I still had the tabs with the files opened, somewhere between then and when I restarted my browser, the files had actually gone away. The threat to Quinn, however, seems worse
than the claims of DNA collection in the first place. Here is WIPO actively issuing bogus legal threats to censor someone performing journalistic endeavors
reporting on factual
information. Here's the letter that WIPO's lawyer sent Quinn:
I am writing to you in my capacity as Legal Counsel of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), in relation to a report and its accompanying exhibits (“WIPO Deputy Director General Alleges Gurry Misconduct”) that are posted on your website IP Watchdog.
I should like to express my grave concern over the contents of this report, which is both insulting and defamatory, as it contains false statements that harm WIPO and the reputation of WIPO’s Director General, Mr. Francis Gurry.
As at Friday, April 11, 2014, we have noticed that the Report itself has been removed from the website. We are, however, very concerned to see that the annexes to the Report (the so-called “exhibits”) are still posted on your website. As you will no doubt know, the said Report and its exhibits or annexes constitute defamatory material which, inter alia, suggest corruption, concern DNA allegations, and are a republication of rehashed allegations.
In addition, I should like to remind you that under Swiss law, the publication of such false and defamatory material could constitute a criminal offence. This is, of course, without prejudice to the laws of any jurisdiction to which you may be subject.
We hereby request that you immediately remove the Report and all its exhibits or annexes from the website.
We hereby further request that you publish an apology to the Director General of WIPO for the publication of false and defamatory material on the website.
Please be informed that if this request is not immediately acceded to, the Director General and WIPO will seek independent legal advise to bring defamation proceedings against you in any competent jurisdiction.
We thank you for your anticipated cooperation.
Legal Counsel / World Intellectual Property Organization
This would be from the same Kwakwa who was also at the center
of the computers-to-North Korea and Iran stories. Either way, the threats are ridiculous. First off, under the SPEECH Act
, Quinn is completely protected from any defamation ruling for a variety of reasons. First, not only is it unclear if this was actually defamatory, merely republishing a report written by someone else is protected in the US under Section 230 of the CDA, and the SPEECH Act was written to make sure that Section 230 protections applied even against lawsuits filed in other countries for publications based in the US.
Second, it's quite incredible for Kwakwa to declare -- as fact -- that the content is defamatory (even suggesting that Quinn magically "knows" this is defamatory). Clearly Pooley and many others do not believe it is defamatory, and as far as I can tell, no court has ruled that the content is defamatory. And this isn't just some random person declaring that Gurry was involved in this: it's a guy who reports directly to Gurry. If it's defamatory, let Gurry take it to court and have it declared so. You don't just get to censor stuff based on one party's claim.
Third, as Intellectual Asset Magazine (linked above) notes, the whole thing -- intimidating a journalist with threats of criminal charges for merely reporting
on a document that no one denied was, in fact, filed by WIPO deputy director James Pooley -- is insane:
As a journalist I find this utterly outrageous. I hope that other people do too. Quinn was not threatened with legal action for any allegations that he made, or for the slant on the story that he wrote around Pooley’s report and exhibits. Instead, he was threatened with legal action for providing a link to them.
Let’s remember, Pooley is Deputy Director of WIPO, he works with and reports to Gurry, and he has made very serious allegations. If that is not newsworthy, I do not know what is. Furthermore, as far as I know, these allegations have not been withdrawn – and certainly had not been when Kwakwa wrote the letter - neither has any investigation of them been reported, let alone concluded. Yet Kwakwa, WIPO’s legal counsel, has declared them “false and defamatory”. How does he know?
Quinn has chosen not to fight this, taking down his post and the associated documents, noting that while he believes in the First Amendment, he's currently recovering from hip replacement surgery and is in no condition to take on this sort of fight at the moment. I've seen at least two other reporters and bloggers who claim to have a copy of the report similarly refuse to post it, noting that it's not worth the legal fight.
And thus WIPO has effectively censored a report on misconduct by its Director General, filed by a senior deputy. To me that's just as, if not more, incriminating than the original charges of the DNA collection. The fact that WIPO believes this is appropriate screams of a coverup from an organization that has something to hide. Perhaps it's no surprise -- given how often we've seen copyright used for censorship -- to find out that the organization that pushes for greater copyright and patent maximalism around the world is also a fan of direct intimidation and censorship of journalists.
However, it should certainly call into serious question how WIPO functions, and whether Director Gurry is the sort of person who should be leading the organization when it appears to be doing all this under his watch.