Geneva meeting on access to knowledge

By EDRi · March 10, 2005

On 3-4 February 2005, more than 60 academics, researchers and scientists, software developers, diplomats, librarians, consumers and representatives of disability and other public interest groups from north and south gathered in Geneva to discuss the WIPO Development Agenda and a draft Treaty on Access to Knowledge (A2K). The meeting was organised by the Consumer Project on Technology (CPTech), Third World Network (TWN) and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).

The aim of the meeting was to find common ground amongst the diverse range of interest groups who feel harmed by current intellectual property regimes, to discuss proposals for a draft treaty on access to knowledge and to start to build a global, social movement to advance the Access to Knowledge agenda.

In October 2004 the WIPO General Assembly decided to establish a WIPO Development Agenda. This far-reaching proposal, initiated by the governments of Argentina and Brazil, received support from dozens of developing countries. It asks for fundamental changes at WIPO. Some of the proposals are directed at the special concerns of developing countries, while others are aimed at institutional reform within WIPO to give more weight to public and consumer interests.

Civil Society responded to the WIPO Development Agenda by proposing a draft Treaty on Access to Knowledge. It emphasises freedoms rather than restrictions and focuses on the cumulative effect on society and the global economy in terms of access to information, education and learning resources, scientific data and research, culture and entertainment.

Specific aspects of an A2K treaty were dealt with in Geneva in lively discussions about a fascinating array of proposals, illustrating just how far copyright and patent laws have reached into the realms of scientific research and patterns of consumer behaviour. These included (in no particular order):

-exceptions and limitations in copyright law and patent rights;
-needs of libraries, blind and visually impaired people, distance education;
-open access to research literature;
-ways to address abuse of rights such as control of anti-competitive practices in contractual licences;
-digital rights management systems and anti-circumvention;
-patents and public goods databases;
-government procurement and free/open source software;
-open standards;
-deep linking policies.

As CPTech Director James Love said afterwards “Some proposals were new, such as the patent and procurement mechanisms to protect open standards. Others, like those concerning open access archives for publicly funded research, are already part of the policy landscape in some countries, including the US, but are not part of any multilateral instrument to promote access to knowledge. This was a very good start, but there is much work ahead.”

The WIPO Development Agenda will be discussed by WIPO member states at a special intergovernmental meeting and during the bi-annual meeting of the Permanent Committee on Cooperation for Development Related to Intellectual Property, both in April, followed by an inter-agency meeting for UN agencies. The Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCRR), from which the proposal for a Development Agenda originated, is due to meet in June. The WIPO Secretariat will prepare a report by 30 July 2005 for the next General Assembly in September 2005. One of the problems civil society organisations are facing is that the WIPO Secretariat have interpreted the wording of the General Assembly decision to exclude ‘ad hoc accreditations’ for the April meetings. In other words, only organisations with permanent observer status may attend. Both European Digital Rights and are currently trying very hard to be able to attend.

Full version of this report (February 2005)

Geneva Declaration on the Future of WIPO

(Contribution by Teresa Hackett, eIFL-IP Project Manager)