Alex Steffen of Worldchanging has posted a great interview with me about WIPO, the copyfight, and international development.
WIPO -- the World Intellectual Property Organization -- is the UN's most captive agency. WIPO was originally a stand-alone organization, essentially an industry consortium for rightsholders' interests, and they got brought in under the umbrella of the UN thirty or so years ago, with the understanding that they would change their practices to make them consistent with other UN instruments like the Universal Declaration on Human Rights -- humanitarian instruments -- and that it would become a humanitarian agency for development.
Which makes sense. Information goods are a critical piece of the development picture. Every successfully developed country made use of free information goods. More accurately, they all went through a stage when they were a pirate nation. America spent a century as a pirate nation, ripping off the intellectual property of every country around it, and in particular, of Britain, because when you're a net importer of intellectual property, signing on to multilateral copyright and patent agreements is signing on to exporting your wealth off-shore. When you're a net exporter of intellectual property, it makes economic sense.
The choice is not simply one of piracy or monopoly. There is a whole rich middle ground of public domain and open information regimes which could give developing world countries the tools they need to serve humanitarian purposes, while protecting the legitimate interests of authors, performers and inventors. WIPO could have created a global knowledge goods regime which protected both the commercial and the humanitarian fairly.
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