A Call To Update Trade Policy Apps In The Internet Era
By Rachel Marusak Hermann for Intellectual Property Watch on 22/09/2011 @ 6:01 pm
Access to the internet and internet services, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, is often thought about in terms of freedom of expression. The so-called Arab Spring reinforced that link as governments limited, censored and restricted the internet in an effort to control communication.
But freedom of information and open access to the internet is not only a human rights issue; it is also of vital importance to the world economy. This was the key message that emerged from “Blocking the Free Flow of Information: A New Trade Barrier,” a session held at the World Trade Organization’s Public Forum on 21 September.
The WTO Forum is here .
Co-organised by Google and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, this session explored the importance of an open internet structure to the world economy. Ed Black, president and CEO of CCIA, stressed that the significance of electronic commerce to trade goes far beyond the internet itself.
“The transfer of information and data and the transmission systems are now integrated into a tremendous amount of world commerce,” he said in an interview. “It’s not just the internet world, and the players there in that are important, but it’s also the many industries that utilise the internet infrastructure to distribute information, knowledge, advertising, and products they care about.”
How Big is Big
The call of William Echikson, Google’s head of free expression policy and relations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, to policymakers was clear: “Internet is big and governments need to encourage it, the trading system needs to encourage it or everyone will miss out on a huge opportunity.”
To explain just how “big is big,” he presented a string of statistics, harvested by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and McKinsey, demonstrating the scope of the internet’s economic impact around the world and especially in Europe. He said that in the United Kingdom, internet represented 7.2 percent of economic activity over the last year. In France, the internet has created 700,000 jobs over the last 15 years and is expected create another 415,000 between now and 2015. Its average contribution to GDP growth to the five largest European economies between 2004 and 2009 was 22 percent. This is higher than in the US, where it was 15 percent during the same period, he said.
Echikson freely admits that internet disruptions “cut right to the heart of what we are doing.” The internet giant’s business is undoubtedly restricted when countries limit internet access. He estimates that there are blockages to services they provide in 25 of the 150 countries in which they operate. Types of blockages include privacy rules, obligations to companies to install surveillance tools into their information technology infrastructure, or imposing local data storage requirements.
Applying Trade Policy
Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE), called these types of disruptions “one of the biggest threats to cross-border trade.” He also suggested that current trade policy is in need of an update.
“If you look at the rules that govern trade, they are from the mid-1990s, a time when VHS tapes were still around,” he said. “We have some catching up to do.”
Black argues that current trade agreements already contain many of the answers to challenges that industries are having when it comes to e-commerce. He told Intellectual Property Watch: “We’re here at the WTO to make people understand that the existing trading system does in fact have rules that should be applied to some of the problems we face.” He went on to cite fundamental trading principles such as transparency and due process as tools that should be more greatly applied to electronic commerce.
In the meantime, Google keeps close tabs on government imposed internet disruptions and is letting people know about it with its Transparency Report . It shows the number of government inquiries for information about users and requests to remove content and traffic outages country by country.
Putting another spin on the conversation, Innocenzo Genna, council officer at EuroISPA, the European association for Internet Service Providers, emphasised that “measures must take into account how internet works.” He argued that it is not the role of ISPs to arbitrate matters related to content. “ISPs cannot remove it, they can just hide it.” He went on to suggest that questions of content removal should be redirected to the content host.
Getting Around IP Issues
This theme seemed to resonate with a question from the audience as Lee Tuthill, from the Trade in Services Division of the WTO, likened burdening neutral intermediaries with content responsibility to “the medieval practice of shooting the messenger.” She also suggested that governments should seek to address the root of their problems when it comes to internet content.
In terms of intellectual property rights, Lee-Makiyama considers that it is one of the many difficulties in digital commerce. In an interview after the session, he said, “People are afraid of losing some of the control of the goods and services coming in and out of their country.” He cited France with President Nicolas Sarkozy’s call for a “civilized internet.”
Echikson said that Google has tried to “move beyond” copyright issues with solutions such as Content ID enabling the identification of user-uploaded videos comprised entirely or partially of their content on YouTube. Copyright owners are notified and can decide what they want to do with their content: leave it up, take it down or advertise.
Article printed from Intellectual Property Watch: http://www.ip-watch.org
URL to article: http://www.ip-watch.org/2011/09/22/a-call-to-update-trade-policy-apps-in-the-internet-era/
URLs in this post:
 WTO Forum is here: http://www.wto.org/english/forums_e/public_forum11_e/forum11_background_e.htm
 Transparency Report: http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/