World Customs Organization Publications Copyright Policy QuestionedPublished on 21 October 2008 @ 11:45 am
Intellectual Property Watch
By William New
In an unusual policy for an international organisation, the World Customs Organization imposes copyright over every document its bodies produce, even agendas, which means that no document can be reproduced without the organisation’s express consent.
But now some member governments are questioning this practice, which they say was intended only for the organisation to protect the rights in publications made for sale or containing proprietary information, and is now blocking access to information about the organisation’s work.
The issue has come to a head in recent months as part of a growing controversy around a WCO working group on enforcement that potentially puts customs officials in the role of judging counterfeit and pirated goods directly and without judges or other authorities.
The next and fourth meeting of the SECURE (Standards to be Employed by Customs for Uniform Rights Enforcement) working group is 30-31 October at the WCO in Brussels. Quoting from a copy of the agenda obtained by Intellectual Property Watch, expected items for discussion include adoption of the third working group report; discussion and adoption of the terms of reference working draft and revised proposed action plan; review and further development of the working draft of the SECURE document of 25 April; a private-sector presentation by Philips; and under other business, a presentation by the UN Universal Postal Union, and, lastly, “discussion of process document from Brazil and Argentina.”
Brazil and Argentina requested the agenda item be called, “Transparency, legitimacy and a member-driven process,” but the WCO secretariat chose to call it simply a “discussion of process document.”
In late September, Brazil and Argentina asked the secretariat to circulate a document entitled, “Ensuring transparency and a legitimate, member-driven process in the SECURE working group.” The author governments requested the document to be considered an official document, but it was only considered a “non-paper,” the sources said.
At the last meeting of the SECURE working group in June, several members, including Argentina, Brazil, China, Cuba, Ecuador and Uruguay, raised the concern that their voices were not heard in the preparation of the draft set of standards on enforcement (IPW, Enforcement, 27 June 2008). Intellectual Property Watch was ordered by WCO to take down a document from that meeting on the basis of copyright.
The 189-member Universal Postal Union recently came under scrutiny as well for a sudden upswing in discussion of enforcement activities. The UPU Congress in August reportedly adopted a resolution that encouraged members to identify counterfeit and pirated items in the postal network and to cooperate with the relevant national and international authorities in awareness-raising initiatives to prevent illegal circulation of counterfeit goods. But a number of countries were concerned that the postal service did not have the scope or necessary legal and other expertise to implement such a resolution, in particular the expertise to determine whether a product is counterfeit or violates IP laws. The resolution’s adoption was appealed, according to sources.
Publication Policy or Information Control?
The WCO limits circulation of its documents in several ways. It posts to documents, even meeting agendas, that “for reasons of economy, documents are printed in limited number. Delegates are kindly asked to bring their copies to meetings and not to request additional copies.” WCO then adds: “Copyright (c) 2008 World Customs Organization. All rights reserved. Requests and inquiries concerning translation, reproduction and adaptation rights should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
In order to access documents, passwords are needed, according to a source. But it is unclear why a copyright is used to protect negotiating documents used by elected governments, when the documents are not expected to be offered for sale or any other apparent disadvantage to the organisation’s secretariat.
The WCO could not comment on its copyright policy by presstime. New WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya takes office in the new year.
William New may be reached at email@example.com.