Copyrights, Knowledge Access, Democracy Debated At Internet Forum 01/11/2006 by William New, Intellectual Property Watch 1 Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)By William New ATHENS – Whether intellectual property rights protection is inhibiting the free flow of information was hotly debated at the Internet Governance Forum on 31 October. “Just about every aspect of the free flow of information is now hampered” by technologies, laws and other reasons, said Joichi Ito of Creative Commons. “Suddenly the sphere of copyright is everywhere.” Ito said openness is “already severely constrained and only getting worse.” Creative Commons, a licensing system encouraging free redistribution of content, is “trying to work within the constraints” of the existing copyright law, he said. Ito added that the editing of multimedia has become an essential part of social discourse in the United States, and that “being able to share and remix video and music is vital” to political debate. But he said copyright law is interfering with political commentary by preventing the use of video material. “I think we’re inhibiting an entirely new form of free speech,” he said. Ito also said there a lot of laws viewed as rational in the United States that have negative effects when applied in other countries. James Love of the Consumer Project on Technology said a broadcasters’ rights treaty being discussed at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) comes at a time when there is an “explosion” of digital content. YouTube, a landmark US video website, has been “a huge source of political criticism.” Love said “the people” and “the lawyers” are on opposite sides on these issues, and asserted that the people should win out. Richard Sambrook, director of BBC Global News, said the company is “encouraging people to take our content,” which is different than other content producers. But he added that BBC is prepared to take action against anyone using the content “inappropriately.” Asked whether BBC had achieved maximum openness with its content, Sambrook said, “Nothing like it, no.” Andrew Puddephatt, who works on human rights issues, said copyrights didn’t exist in the time of Shakespeare, but “nobody believed Shakespeare’s creativity was impaired by not having copyright.” Senator Paschal Mooney of Ireland said there has been an obligation in the United Kingdom to put a lot of material in the public domain such as through libraries at least since the 19th century. A participant from South Africa said he would like to find a balance between intellectual property rights, especially copyrights, and access to information. Most information is controlled by digital rights management, he said, which has eroded the sharing of scientific and other critical knowledge. He raised a proposal at WIPO for an access to knowledge treaty that would set a baseline of rights for public access. Love supported the proposal. “A lot of big decisions go wrong when people don’t have information,” he said. Hanne Sophie Greve, a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights, said corporations should make a commitment to distribute information, and that certain information such as medical research should not be constrained. “Of course there are rights for authors but there are also rights for others,” she said. Openness was debated after Greek Minister of State Theodoros Roussopoulos denied knowledge of a Greek blogger arrested this week for linking to a website critical of the Greek government. Roussopoulos ignited discussion of democracy [which originated in Greece] and the Internet with the suggestion that a “professional code of ethics” might be needed for bloggers, and that a way is needed for victims to deal with slander or defamation on blogs. Ito said that anyone not able to win an argument in the public debate should not try to stifle others but rather should try to make their voice louder. But Greve said there are types of speech that are restricted, such as hate speech. Mooney said there are laws governing speech and that it is not as simple as making one’s voice louder if illegal forms of speech are involved. Open Standards Coalition Launched Separately, this week also saw the launch of a group referred to as the Dynamic Coalition on Open ICT Standards, aimed at ensuring openness and interoperability in information and communications technologies. The group is looking at standards for open document formats to enable easy sharing. Participants in the launch event included Susan Struble, Sun Microsystems; James Love, Consumer Project on Technology; Robin Gross, IP Justice; Georg Greve, Free Software Foundation Europe; Edan Katz, Yale Information Society Project; Daniel Dardieller, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards organisation; and Magdy Nagi, Bibliotheca Alexandrina. “We are concerned that there is a growing trend for privatization of technology standards,” Struble said. “Technology is not an end goal. It should be as easy as switching on the light.” Struble added that with open document formats, document applications are the “next big IT thing” in technology, especially as Microsoft prepares to launch a system to compete with Google and others. Many governments are on board, she said. Struble also said Sun is eyeing the potential of the 5 billion people on the planet who are not connected to the Internet, but it is even more excited to get them on board “to see what ideas they come up with.” “I think this the first serious effort at norm-setting activity within the IGF [Internet Governance Forum],” Love said, adding that the distinct nature of the forum as a non-negotiating body creates opportunities. While other UN agencies must have full agreement to put something on an agenda, the IGF will “decide on very little, which creates a space for people to do anything.” William New may be reached at email@example.com. 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