Audio file (.mp3) of statement here

Robin D. Gross – IP Justice Executive Director – May 13, 2008

Thank you Mr. Chairman.  On behalf of the Access to Knowledge and Free Expression Dynamic Coalition, a multi-stakeholder group of NGO’s, business, and government, I welcome the opportunity to participate at the IGF Open Consultations and recommend issues for consideration of discussion at the 2008 IGF in Hyderabad this December.

The A2K@IGF coalition was formed at the inaugural meeting of the United Nations Internet Governance Forum Athens, Greece 2006 in recognition of the growing impact that unbalanced intellectual property rules have on access to knowledge and free expression in the Information Age.  In particular, the coalition is concerned with the negative impact that excessive intellectual property rights can have on the development of the Internet as a global communications platform.  The coalition met again in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in November 2007 to continue the discussion on how to remove legal impediments to access to knowledge and thus facilitate the free flow of information on the Internet.
The United Nations Special Agency, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), administers a number of intellectual property treaties that can have a harmful effect on developing countries when implemented poorly.  For example the 1996 WIPO “Internet Treaties” have been used to impose excessive anti-development policies on nations by requiring legal prohibitions against the bypass of technological restrictions that control the use of digital content and prevent the free flow of information (“digital rights management”).
As a UN agency, WIPO is required to balance the rights of intellectual property rights holders with the rights of users, taking into account issues of development in treaty formulation.  The global Access to Knowledge (A2K) movement and this coalition have been created to promote a balance that favors the global public interest.  One key A2K strategy in relation to WIPO has been to participate in the WIPO Development Agenda discussions and to promote an Access to Knowledge Treaty at WIPO. Closely tied to access to knowledge is the need for access to technology, interoperability, and open standards.  The lack of ICT infrastructure and affordable bandwidth has excluded most developing countries from access to the Internet and they have therefore not benefited as fully from the Internet.  The work of this and other IGF dynamic coalitions hope to address the problem of the growing digital divide.
The IGF theme “Openness” implies not only the removal of obstacles to the free flow of information but also encompasses promoting and creating an environment of openness and inclusiveness.  Google has responded to the idea of promoting cultural diversity by providing search engines in several languages.  Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) developers have gone a long way in promoting free software applications and search engines in minority languages thereby including and facilitating many more Internet users, growing small businesses and promoting the free flow of information.  The many alternative licenses available to software programmers writing FOSS programs has facilitated these efforts to share knowledge and information freely while incentivising creativity.  But these alternative models can only survive if international legal norms and technical protocols support efforts to make knowledge more freely accessible.
IPR protection has always been given to creators and inventors in exchange for some benefit to the public.  These are usually included in IP law as exceptions and limitations that can provide a benefit to the public.  For example, when copyright owners permit the copying of their materials for private and educational use, they contribute to the general pool of knowledge available on the Internet.  The practice of remixing, re-using, editing, and combining of audio-video and text to comment on culture and create transformative works depends upon a system of robust exceptions and limitations to exclusive rights. This coalition supports innovation and the creation of wealth through IPR incentivization, but we also seek to support alternative models for creating knowledge goods, including free and open source software, or open scholarly and scientific journals, and on-line access to scholarly research, publicly funded research, and essential documents such as legal information.
The A2K@IGF coalition welcomes a discussion in Hyderabd that explores best practices for promoting sharing of knowledge and access to information and that explores a variety of business models designed to encourage creativity and innovation.  We welcome participation from all stakeholders in this ongoing discussion to build an open and inclusive Internet to promote human development and individual empowerment.
Thank you.