Delay Of Pirate Parties’ WIPO Observer Status Raises Questions

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Member governments of the World Intellectual Property Organization yesterday approved all but one application for international non-governmental observer status at the UN agency: Pirate Parties International. This is likely to lead to a discussion of who can be an observer, sources say.

The action was taken on 3 October during the annual WIPO General Assembly, without significant discussion, after closed-door informal meetings of the Group B developed countries that included a consult with the WIPO general counsel, according to sources.

The Pirate Parties International group is registered as a Brussels, Belgium-based international non-governmental organisation. It represents the Pirate Party movement, which includes numerous elected officials worldwide, with a platform of striving to reform law regarding copyrights and patents.

Political parties may be able join WIPO as observers through an NGO, and the PPI asserted in its application materials that it is an international NGO that supports pirate parties, and is not itself a political party.

Some Group B countries such as Sweden and Germany have publicly elected officials from the party, and were reportedly more reluctant to take a stand against observer status.

According to a participant, Group B countries were looking for a legal basis to block the group from joining WIPO, but could not find an objection based on current WIPO admission procedures. Countries need more time to analyse the application before deciding, the source said. It could be considered during the year to amend the admission procedures, another source said.

There could be consideration given to narrowing the scope of who could be an observer, as some think it has expanded beyond those specifically interested in IP rights. WIPO now has some 200 NGO observers, more than member states.

In particular, France, Switzerland and the United States were named by NGO Knowledge Ecology International as having raised questions about allowing political parties in as observers. Several sources confirmed Switzerland and the US.

Amelia Andersdotter, a Swedish Pirate Party representative to the European Parliament, in a blog post entitled “World Pretentious Property Organisation” yesterday called the decision “distressing.” She suggested that it runs contrary to WIPO Director General Francis Gurry’s call for WIPO to remain non-political, by actually politicising the issue of membership.

Andersdotter noted that in WIPO, the European Union, represented by the European Commission, does not have a voice as it is not an independent member of the United Nations.

Nick Ashton-Hart of the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) raised a question about the PPI delay to Intellectual Property Watch afterward.

“If the NGO’s application falls within a plain wording of the rules and regulations defining what NGOs may be accredited, then the application should be granted,” he said. “From our perspective, what harm can there be for the secretariat of a political party to be an observer at WIPO? If anything, it seems to us this will lead to a better understanding by that secretariat of the international dimension of IP public policy, which is no bad thing.”

A Pirate Party representative was quoted in a report on TorrentFreak as saying the group was not even informed by WIPO that its application was up for decision this week.

WIPO would not comment on the PPI subject other than to confirm that members had deferred the decision.

Cambia, Communia Approved

Meanwhile, the other six international NGOs that were admitted include the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM), a labour organisation established in 1896 and headquartered in New York; and Cambia, a Brisbane, Australia-based group with a database of the majority of the world’s patent information and scholarly literature and the full text patent search tools called Patent Lens.

Also admitted were: Communia, a Brussels-based group working to expand and strengthen the public domain; the International Association of Lawyers (IAITL) based in Hellerup, Denmark; the International Network for Standardization of Higher Education Degrees (INSHED) based in Geneva; and the Nordic Actors’ Council (NSR).

Of the national NGOs, there also was one out of seven that was not approved: the Egyptian Inventors Union based in Cairo. The WIPO general counsel told the plenary today that they had “not yet had positive indications” of the group’s status.

National NGOs that were approved included: Ankara University Research Center on Intellectual and Industrial Property Rights (FISAUM) based in Turkey; Brands Foundation in Karachi, Pakistan, which promotes brands; Camara Industrial de Laboratorios Farmaceuticos Argentinos (CILFA) in Buenos Aires, which protects pharmaceutical industry interests; the German Library Association based in Nierstein; the Health and Environment Program in Yaoundé, Cameroon; and the Société civile pour l’administration des droits des artistes et musicians interprétés (ADAMI), a Paris-based civil collecting society for performers.

One intergovernmental organisation also was approved: ITER International Fusion Energy Organization based in Saint-Paul-lès-Durance, France.

Observer status gives the right to be admitted to meetings of the General Assembly as well as relevant committees, working groups or other bodies. Observers do not have a vote, but can comment in meetings when called upon.

A PPI statemnt on the matter was posted on the PPI site, here.

William New may be reached at wnew@ip-watch.ch.

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