Statement of the Free Software Foundations towards the 2005 WIPO general assemblies
Author: Georg C.F. Greve on: 2005-09-30
Free Software Foundation Europe
Free Software Foundation Latin America
on behalf of the Free Software Foundations Europe and Latin America, let me express my congratulations to you and your colleagues on your chairing this historic general assembly. The Free Software Foundations are globally active centres of expertise acting in a network of sister organisations based in India, Latin America, Europe and the United States of America.
Our area of expertise are the issues raised by a digitised society and economy, questions which are addressed effectively by Free Software; as defined by the freedom of unlimited use for any purpose, the freedom to study, the freedom to modify and the freedom to distribute.
Through the Free Software Foundation Europe the FSFs participated in all sessions of the Development Agenda IIM process and also followed the broadcasting treaty negotiations with great interest. Our comments relate to both activities.
much has been said and written about the knowledge society that humankind is about to enter. Looking at the regulatory initiatives, one stumbles upon a paradox: While society is getting ready to unleash human creativity as it has never done before, regulatory proposals seek to create new barriers.
The Broadcasting Treaty is a good example of such a new barrier for which the potential benefits and costs seem unequally matched in disfavor of humankind.
The result of ignoring the wisdom of approaching crucial legal regulation can be seen in another area: software patents have been introduced without evaluation, and according to the findings of several renowned institutions we now have to realise that they are harmful to competition and stifle innovation. For your information: these institutions include Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Boston University School of Law, Price Waterhouse Coopers, US Federal Trade Commission and Deutsche Bank Research.
The situation has degenerated to the point that a vice president of IBM, Mr Wladawsky-Berger, likened software patents to weapons of mass destruction in a New York Times interview.
Similar experiences seem possible with the Broadcasting Treaty.
Erecting additional barriers and raising all barriers by introduction of criminal sanctions against commercial infringement at a time when humankind is still struggling to fully understand the implications of the digital age would be hasty and unwise.
the traditional toolset of WIPO revolves centrally around limited monopolies, such as Copyrights, Patents or Trademarks. These have often been treated on the basis that more is always better, an approach that ignores both Liebigs law of the minimum as well as Shelfords law of tolerance: Not only will increasing the dose of the non-limiting factor have no positive effect, an overdose can be toxic.
Finding the proper balance between too little and too much is the challenge that lies before any regulation. Given the fundamental impact of all regulations made on WIPO level, wisdom would suggest a conservative approach:
New regulations should only be introduced if scientific evidence and evidence from a public review period conclusively show it to have a positive effect.
Old regulations should be reviewed periodically as to whether they are still up to the needs of the time, or whether they require adjustment.
In the light of the wisdom of Liebig and Shelford, agreeing to the creation of a WIPO Research and Evaluation Office (WERO) would seem trivial, so would the search for alternative means of fostering creativity.
As the secretariat and member states correctly pointed out repeatedly in the past: WIPO exists to promote creativity. At the time of its inception, most alternative means of fostering creativity were not yet concieved, in particular those related to digitalisation. Now that they exist, what would seem more natural for WIPO than exploring them?
The discussions around the Development Agenda have proven to be most difficult, also because of procedural discussions, which indeed took the majority of the time spent in the IIM process. After these had been largely resolved, substantive discussion took place, cut short by the need to come to a formal outcome that could be presented to this general assembly.
Not continuing what was begun, or changing from a horse to a mule midstream, as the honored Indian delegate so eloquently put it, would be wasting the time and effort spent on this initiative by all sides, North and South. For this reason we strongly support the notion of letting the IIM process finish what it began.
Thank you for your attention.