Head of UN copyright agency says fair use is a "negative agenda," wants to get rid of discussions on rights for blind people and go back to giving privileges to giant companies

In this (non-embeddable, natch) video interview from the World Copyright Summit on June 8, Francis Gurry, the Director General of WIPO, the UN agency that creates and oversees global copyright policy, laments the current state of WIPO, saying that the copyright agenda there:
"... tends to be a negative one. It tends to be looking at the exceptions, the limitations, and the other ways of not having intellectual property. I'm very keen to see us coming back with a positive agenda for intellectual property."
Translation: our job isn't to figure out how to balance out freedom of speech and access with exclusive rights for authors and investors; more copyright is always good. And the subtext is, "All those public interest groups that have got us looking at rights for blind and disabled people, exemptions for poor countries, rights for educators and archivists, and Creative Commons-style 'some rights reserved' issues are distracting us from the real business of WIPO: maximizing copyright's benefit for a handful of corporate giants."

Several of the public interest groups at WIPO have objected in writing and asked for clarification:

In response to requests from Member States, exceptions and limitations have been placed on the agenda of SCCR. As a result, a very useful series of studies for the visually impaired, libraries and education has been published, followed by surveys of exceptions and limitations in Member States. We welcomed these studies and were happy to advise in their preparation upon WIPO's request. In our view WIPO, as the core UN agency for copyright, has a responsibility and a crucial role to be the neutral field for all stakeholders, respecting decisions made by Member States while setting the work agenda, and providing support with technical expertise for achieving Member State objectives. Your statement suggests a bias against balance and in favour of more protection; and your use of "us," given the audience you were addressing, could imply that the WIPO Secretariat is aligning itself with a specific set of rights holder interests. In this context, the library community and the World Blind Union would like to express its concern that the message to be taken from your remarks must be that copyright exceptions are negative for the welfare of copyright rather than being a positive and beneficial tool to sustain learning, support the exchange of scholarly information and promote creativity.

Meanwhile, WIPO continues to stumble forward with more Internet regulation proposals, including a proposal to make ISPs and domain registrars adjudicate and police trademark claims, "three strikes" Internet disconnection rules, and generally increased liability for "intermediaries" such as hosting companies, YouTube, WordPress, and ISPs, which would encourage them to censor and surveil their users.

WIPO is uniquely unqualified to regulate the Internet. Gossip has it that 'a Director-level staffer recently asked a group of Internet intermediaries the question "What does Web 2.0 mean?"'

(Thanks, Secret Informant!)


  1. Isn’t it obvious. Steal. Steal everything you can. And I don’t use that word without understanding it’s implications. They are stealing from you every way possible. Health care insurance, banking and copyright which now looks to be eternal. Conde Nast is using artists photos to make money when they didn’t pay for those rights, it’s all legal. Live by the golden rule, he who has the gold makes the rules. Again, steal.

  2. umm….The traditional view under the US constitution is that COPYRIGHT is a “negative agenda.” That is to say it is a government limitation on what the owner of a COPY is allowed to do with it.

  3. Sigh…

    But, on the bright side… While watching that, out of the corner of my eye I thought I seen Paul Williams.

    So I load up the speakers list and sure as the sun sets in the west there he was listed as a Speaker.
    And Robin Gibb.

    I’d personally love to see their speech’s & hope they are posted!

    Thanks for the link.

  4. Hey, that’s a legit question. I have a Computer Science degree. I worked as a *nix System Administrator for several years, which involved maintaining and configuring various TCP/IP networks and web services. And I’m STILL not sure what “Web 2.0” means.

    1. Me too – computer science degree and no idea what Web 2.0 is supposed to mean. I think there might be a pattern here – people who actually know about computers don’t use the term?

      1. Agreed. In attacking an unnamed employee who allegedly asks a question that has been a popular one over the last few years smacks of ad hominem argumentation, and well, its unverified. And well, looks a little like slinging mud.

        There are no stupid questions, just stupid people to ask those questions, right?

        1. Sure, except after the quote from the director, it seems like mentioning stupidity is less criticism and more a humorous exoneration, because otherwise the only explanation for them is pure malice.

  5. The most important advertising channel is always word of mouth. Happy customers tell others about their good experience. Doing away with “fair use” removes this advertising channel and would be self defeating. But big corporations are too greedy for their own good. They forget that they and their profits are not the end of business but serving customers is the just end. I say let have their just reward.

  6. I thought web 2.0 was supposed to represent the age of interactivity, where every page has a comments section which can sometimes enhance or surpass the original page content (or, more often than not, provide a horrifying glimpse of your fellow humans’ ill-conceived beliefs and lack of spelling ability) and can be shared via various applications to your peers.

    to differentiate from “web 1.0” when it was just web pages to be read.

    but I am not a computery person.

  7. Meanwhile, 40 countries, including the USA, Norway, Sweden and India, have signed a proposal asking countries that have “three strikes” policies against illegal downloading to repeal these laws, citing article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Source : http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/06/us-nz-sweden-others-condemn-three-strikes-internet-laws.ars

    See http://www.sweden.gov.se/sb/d/14194/a/170566 for the full proposal.

    France, Australia and the UK have obviously not endorsed the proposal. Neither has China, interestingly.

  8. This is absolutely disgusting. Every time I feel like a glimmer of hope in copyright reform is on the horizon, something like this happens, and I realize that it’s only going to get worse.

    My understanding of Web 2.0 (other than it being an empty buzzword to repackage old ideas as new insights) is to mark the distinction between the 90’s style internet where everyone was a broadcaster, and email was the only interaction an audience had with the author, and the 2000’s style internet where comments, social networking, embedding, RSS, twitter sreams, liking and “+1″ing are the norm.

    according to the jargon:
    old media was producer —> consumer
    web 1.0 was prosumer —> prosumer
    web 2.0 is participant < ---> participant

  9. Can someone who has watched the video chime in and verify that Gurry himself actually says something about wanting to take rights away from blind people?

    Cory, I agree with the message, but headlines like this are not helping the cause. The outrages of WIPO do not require amplification through breathless hyperbole.

    1. I had the same thought, myself. Perhaps there is a little more reading into this than is warranted.

      If you’re a mildly ignorant fence builder, and building fences is your passion, a discussion about where fences shouldn’t be is not interesting to you.

      If you’re a mildly intelligent fence builder, then you seek to develop fences that do a duty and don’t desire to simply build fences for the sake of building fences.

  10. Cory,

    Is it not the case that what Gurry is saying is ‘copyright is usually thought of as “everything is in copyright until proven otherwise” (a negative model) but should be “only stuff that should be protected by copyright is in copyright” (a positive model).’

    That, I’d have thought, is a very welcome message from WIPO.

  11. Shiny, shiny! And wet-floor effect!

    See also: Web 2.0 = Web 1.0.

    (Since y’all beat me to the rhetorical question already … )

  12. The quoted comment comes near the end of the video, in a response to a question on how WIPO’s approach towards copyright differs from that of the European Commission.

    One thing he mentions near the middle of the video I’d like to hear more about, is WIPO’s trying to set up an international music registry.

  13. Oh, a less positive bit was he claims it’s naive to treat ISPs as “dumb pipes.” (around 9 minutes in)

  14. There are various ways to use the words “negative” and “positive,” and I don’t think what’s meant here is “bad” and “good,” which is how this article and the comments seem to be taking it.

    I don’t have time at the moment to watch the original video, so it’s possible that full context proves me wrong, but often when you’re talking negative-positive in this context you’re talking a concept like this:

    Negative: All rights are assumed except the exceptions we carve out/the ones we say you don’t have.

    Positive: Only defined rights are assumed.

    If used correctly, conceptualizing copyright law as positive rather than negative may actually increase the freedom of users of copyright and reduce the powers of IP holders.


  15. OK, does anyone have plan for keeping psychopaths out of positions of power? Anyone? Bueller?

  16. ‘positive activism will be the mantra’ Scary. Praising the policy laundry that European Commision does…. Retire all funding to WIPO now?

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