Remarks by Robin Gross, IP Justice Executive Director
Internet Bill of Rights Dynamic Coalition
at the 2007 Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

13 November 2007 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Thank you. Today I’d like to address a few issues that are specifically relevant to the positive development of the Internet and a healthy information society.

1. Freedom of Expression Rights

An open and unencumbered exchange of ideas is one of the most fundamental aspects of the Internet. The Internet was originally designed to share info without interference – the action is at the edges with little interference from intermediaries. It is precisely because of this early design choice, that the Internet has become such an important tool for human development.

We want an Internet where every page can link to every other page. We need to ensure that unpopular ideas and critical speech are not prevented from being expressed on any level of the Internet. Both governments and business play a role in chilling speech on the Internet.

2. Access to Knowledge Rights

The Internet is an unprecedented tool for education. Access to knowledge is access to power. We must recognize the value of the public domain – protect it, respect it, and grow it. There is a growing global movement, both among developing nation governments and civil society to pass an Access to Knowledge Treaty at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Six weeks ago WIPO passed a “Development Agenda” to rethink the organization’s “IPR maximalist” approach and include a development perspective in its work. It is worth noting that Brazil played a leading role in making this fundamental change happen at WIPO.

3. Communication Rights

We need the freedom to share information and exchange culture and ideas. Affordable access to Internet is critical – especially in remote and under-serviced communities.

We need to ensure two-way communication on the Internet, not just large companies feeding info into communities, but rather maintain a space for activists, individual bloggers, student journalists, music mash-ups and collaborative projects made possible by Internet

4. Privacy Rights and Data Protection

The Internet facilitates the easy collection and storing of personal data, and the transfer of personal data; and we have to recognize that judgments are made about people based upon personal data.

Many in would pit privacy is security, and say the more privacy you have, the less security you will have. I would submit that this is a false dichotomy. I’d like to quote from one of the United States’ Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin who recognized that “those who give up their liberty with the hope of attaining security, will soon discover they have neither”.

5. Anonymity

Anonymity is an important human right that straddles both privacy and free expression. Anonymity provides protection for whistle-blowers, human rights activists living and working in countries with repressive governments.

We have the legal right to use a website without the worldwide publication of private information (which will require reform of ICANN’s illegal “whois” policy).

6. Excessive and unbalanced intellectual property rights

In a digital world, one of the greatest threats to freedom of expression, creativity and innovation are excessive and unbalanced intellectual property rights. The Internet makes copies in order to display info, so copyright rules are implicated in order to read or share info on Internet.

We have moved to a place where our legal rules are in contrast with our technology – we have ability to share knowledge and culture but our legal rules often make it illegal to do so. Many schools lack funds to purchase textbooks for students, yet companies now sell digital textbooks that auto-delete in order to ensure higher profits. So our social and development goals in contrast with our intellectual property rights legal rules.

We face the elimination of private copying rights (such as fair use or fair dealing). It is important to note that not all copying is illegal. In fact, MUCH unauthorized copying is entirely legal (copying for education, commentary, criticism, research, private use, etc).

This key point is frequently misunderstood by the public and government officials, and this misunderstanding is enabled by IP industry, who disseminates false information about the rights of consumers, and lobbies lawmakers to change the law and take more rights away from consumers.

A major threat to free expression in digital environment is use of technological restrictions or “digital locks” that control how info can be used. These technological restrictions, (sometimes called “Digital Rights Management” or DRM) are illegal to bypass and it is illegal provide information to others on how to bypass those restrictions. Besides the threat to free expression, these anti-circumvention laws are a major threat to computer security, since “white hat” computer researchers are forbidden from testing critical computer systems. Since the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was passed in the United States, computer security conferences have reported they are moving their meetings overseas since it is too risky for the researchers or organizers to hold those discussions in the US.

We need to explore new business models that harness power of Internet — business models that take advantage of the ease of copying and distribution, rather than fight against these properties.

We should promote innovative new tools like Creative Commons licenses, Wikipedia, and video-sharing websites like YouTube where people choose to share with the world information they have created.

We need to leave a space for creativity and innovative new business models that are designed specifically for Internet, such as “viral marketing”. For example podcasts, where artists choose to share their music and ideas, but can be prevented by laws or technologies that assume it is a crime to share info.

7. Open Technical Standards

We must ensure that critical information technologies work without requiring the purchase of specific software or hardware. Patents are often embedded in technical protocols, further raising barriers to access to knowledge. Open standards are necessary to archive information in a digital environment. We need to think long term. Egypt’s famous Library of Alexandria was tragically burned and we lost that knowledge. Let’s not make that mistake again and instead build information archive rights into our laws and societies.

8. Democratic Values

Transparency and accountability are essential for Internet governance institutions. In order for government to be legitimate, it must have the consent of governed. Considering the millions of people who file-share and consider it ethical to do so, there is gap between the law, which makes much file-sharing illegal, and the will of the people, who do not consent to this law.

Our legal institutions and forums for Internet governance must adhere to Universal Declaration of Human Rights in practice, rather than mere talk. We need to implement our commitments to freedom of expression, privacy, and due process at Internet governance institutions.

In conclusion, I cannot emphasize enough that the enforcement of our existing legal rights is the first and most important step we can take to ensure human rights are protected in an information society of the future.

Thank you.