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Geneva Declaration on the Future of WIPO
Alex Steffen, 23 Sep 04

Longtime readers will know that we believe that open methods of innovation and the spread of science and the tools of technological discovery throughout the world are both essential building blocks of a better future -- that without an effort to redistribute the future, all ideas of sustainable development and global prosperity become something of a joke.

That's why the Geneva Declaration is one of those small efforts that could have gigantic repercussions: concerned that the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) -- sort of a WTO for ideas -- is moving in directions which will have disasterous effects on technological innovation, freedom of expression and global economic inequality, a coalition of developing nations and prominent NGOs has put together a joint position on how WIPO ought to work.

Humanity faces a global crisis in the governance of knowledge, technology and culture. The crisis is manifest in many ways.

* Without access to essential medicines, millions suffer and die;
* Morally repugnant inequality of access to education, knowledge and technology undermines development and social cohesion;
* Anticompetitive practices in the knowledge economy impose enormous costs on consumers and retard innovation;
* Authors, artists and inventors face mounting barriers to follow-on innovation;
* Concentrated ownership and control of knowledge, technology, biological resources and culture harm development, diversity and democratic institutions;
* Technological measures designed to enforce intellectual property rights in digital environments threaten core exceptions in copyright laws for disabled persons, libraries, educators, authors and consumers, and undermine privacy and freedom;
* Key mechanisms to compensate and support creative individuals and communities are unfair to both creative persons and consumers;
* Private interests misappropriate social and public goods, and lock up the public domain.

At the same time, there are astoundingly promising innovations in information, medical and other essential technologies, as well as in social movements and business models. We are witnessing highly successful campaigns for access to drugs for AIDS, scientific journals, genomic information and other databases, and hundreds of innovative collaborative efforts to create public goods, including the Internet, the World Wide Web, Wikipedia, the Creative Commons, GNU Linux and other free and open software projects, as well as distance education tools and medical research tools. Technologies such as Google now provide tens of millions with powerful tools to find information. Alternative
compensation systems have been proposed to expand access and interest in cultural works, while providing both artists and consumers with efficient and fair systems for compensation. There is renewed interest in compensatory liability rules, innovation prizes, or competitive intermediators, as models for economic incentives for science and technology that can facilitate sequential follow-on innovation and avoid monopolist abuses. In 2001, the World Trade Organization (WTO) declared that member countries should "promote access to medicines for all."

Humanity stands at a crossroads - a fork in our moral code and a test of our ability to adapt and grow. Will we evaluate, learn and profit from the best of these new ideas and opportunities, or will we respond to the most unimaginative pleas to suppress all of this in favor of intellectually weak, ideologically rigid, and sometimes brutally unfair and inefficient policies? Much will depend upon the future direction of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a global body setting standards that regulate the production, distribution and use of knowledge.

This is an essential fight, folks. There is no worldchanging future in which innovation is squelched, held private and sold dear. You may never have heard of WIPO before, but it's one of the governing bodies which is deciding the shape of the world in which you will live out the rest of your life. It's worth paying attention.

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