ACTA A Sign Of Weakness In Multilateral System, WIPO Head SaysPublished on 30 June 2010 @ 6:18 pm
By Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch
The plurilateral Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and other such regional negotiations are a “bad development” for multilateral agencies, the World Intellectual Property Organization director general has told Intellectual Property Watch.
Asked about this week’s ACTA negotiation in Lucerne, Switzerland (IPW, Enforcement, 26 June 2010), Gurry said it is an example of the difficulty the United Nations and the rest of the multilateral system have providing swift answers to international problems.
WIPO Director General Francis Gurry told UN journalists on 29 June that the inability to provide answers could lead to member states taking matters into their own hands to seek solutions outside of the multilateral system to the detriment of inclusiveness of the present system.
There is an increasing number of issues that can only be addressed internationally, which is bringing a challenge to the whole UN system, highlighting its inability to address them, Gurry said. Despite that “surge for international agreements, we are not seeing international agreements flowing out very easily,” he said.
If “you look across the system, in all organisations, you are not seeing agreements being concluded on a daily basis,” even if the speed with which interconnection has intensified would suggest that agreements are needed, he said. But he did not offer clear ideas on how to solve the delays.
“A number of countries feel [there is] an important area of public policy they are not able to address in a multilateral forum, and so have gone outside the multilateral framework to satisfy their desire for creating some form of ‘international’ cooperation,” Gurry told Intellectual Property Watch in an interview last week. “That’s the challenge, for us. And whether it concerns enforcement, ACTA, or any other area, that, on the whole, is a bad development for a multilateral agency, that member states start to do things outside.”
“Either the machinery works, or it doesn’t,” he said. “That I think is the real significance of ACTA.
The frustration it has caused is a consequence of practical issues not being addressed, he said, citing recent difficult discussions in the Standing Committee on Copyrights and Related Rights on increased access for visually impaired persons. “Can anyone not subscribe to that principle, as a general rule?” he asked, with visually impaired readers only obtaining access to about five percent of all published work in reasonable time.
“Can anyone stand up and say that they should not have more [access], that we should not do something about it?” It is such an obvious question, he said “but we are not getting an agreement” although the last meeting showed genuine involvement of member countries.
“This is the frustration that we are all feeling,” he said, and it leads to other ways to reach solutions.
The challenge is to “make the multilateral system relevant,” he said, giving several reasons why this is important. First, problems are often international and a real response will only come through an international solution, as opposed to a partial one. Second, the most vulnerable countries are the ones that need most the international system and international solutions are inclusive and give an opportunity to all countries to have a voice and to have a say in the solution. The third reason is public policy, Gurry said. Depending on the areas, solutions can be given by technology, or by the private sector, “which may or may not be a good thing, but it should not happen by default,” he said.
Gurry said so far this year three out of four important meetings at WIPO had been positive, the last one on copyright and related rights, brought disappointing results due to a breakdown in talks over exceptions and limitations for visually impaired readers (IPW, WIPO, 26 June 2010).
Last week’s WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights also discussed the protection of broadcasting organisations, but no advances were made on the subject either, Gurry said.
One of the problems is that technology changes very quickly, Gurry said. In this context of a “moving target,” he said, “how can we legislate?”
There is also an issue of the public domain, he said. The right of the broadcasters is not in the content, it is in the signal. For example, the producer of a film might retain the right on the film, but the broadcaster will retain the right over the particular packaging of the film. However, concerning the public domain, such as state archives, someone can take something from those archives, wrap a broadcast signal around it and package it. Some have expressed concern that “you are capturing things that are otherwise in the public domain and covering them” with IP rights. According to Gurry, this is a misrepresentation, as “nothing stops other people from going back to the archives.”
WIPO 2010-2015 Strategic Plan Floated
On 27 May, Gurry presented a medium-term strategic plan for WIPO for 2010-2015 to the member states and launched a consultative process, according to the WIPO website [PDF].
Another meeting was held on 25 June and “member states came back with various comments and suggestions, and they will now be put in writing,” said Gurry. A lot of individual comments were provided, he said.
According to WIPO, following the consultative process, a proposed strategic plan will be considered by the WIPO Program and Budget Committee in September, before submitting it to the WIPO General Assemblies.
Catherine Saez may be reached at email@example.com.