The General Assembly decision on the Pirate Parties International application for World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) observer status has been postponed until 2013. Yesterday during the deliberations between the member states of the WIPO assembly, all of which are nation states that are also members of the United Nations – therefore the European Union, represented by the European Commission, does not have a voice – concerns were raised about letting political parties obtain observer status. Observer status implies that you can follow the meetings and the discussions. At times a representative member of the organisation may also make interventions on behalf of the observing organisation.
This decision is really distressing. The American non-profit organisation Knowledge Ecology International reports that the United States, in particular, ”asked for a hold on the decision until WIPO could decide if it wanted to accept political parties as WIPO observers”. Some of the European member states were apparently ”concerned that the Pirate Parties would take ‘political action’ back home when they disagreed with positions taken by the official delegates at the WIPO meetings”.
It bears mentioning in this context, that earlier this summer WIPO General Director Francis Gurry said ”Innovation is too important as an economic and social phenomenon to beover-politicized.” What exactly could he mean by that? We talk about innovation, growths and jobs in my institution every day, and I’m a publically elected official sitting in a supra-national parliament. It is difficult to imagine a more political environment than the one in which I find myself. If Mr Gurry means that intellectual property law should not be held up to public scrutiny and democratic debate, he would really need to look deeper in himself to dig out a justification for why this ”social phenomenon” needs to be outside of social control.
Indeed, Mr Gurry himself has acknowledged that ”Beyond law and infrastructure, we have culture, and the Internet has, as we know, developed its own culture, one that has seen a political party, the Pirate Party, emerge to contest elections on the basis of the abolition or radical reform of intellectual property, in general, and copyright, in particular. /…/ [T]he sentiment of distaste or disrespect for intellectual property on the Internet that it voices is widespread.” Clearly, even at the World Intellectual Property Organisation they know that intellectual property rights, copyrights, patents and trademarks are quickly becoming highly politicized topics, very present in the public debate and the number of private persons in society who do not feel in some way negatively affected by the current regulatory framework is quickly decreasing. But Mr Gurry’s methodology for dealing with these problems is, first of all, to lead the process of signing an ill-conceived performers’ rights agreement in June of this year in Beijing which clearly bears the mark of benefitting global film studios without remedying the power balance in place between those same studios and the actual performers (normally actors) assumed to be protected by the agreement, and secondly, to ”also sa[y] the growing anti-IP sentiment is “quite normal” and described the challenge of winning the “hearts and minds” of people toward the notion of paying for copyrighted material on the internet.”
In other words, Mr Gurry’s solution to a very fundamental question on how to solve the issue of communication between people, the building of communities over borders and the social interactions of normal persons in a digital environment and elsewhere, is to make them suck it up.
He seems to suggest we have to pay or stay silent. Well, I refuse to sign up to this world view. It’s deranged.
It also really bothers me that the European governments presented are afraid of being held accountable for their actions in WIPO in their home countries. The European representatives are sent out by goverments of European countries to convey the political position of the government they are representing in the forum of WIPO! Surely the accountability of a European government towards its people doesn’t stop at the Swiss border?
My own government, which without hesitation told Swedish national press that they supported a binding treaty for the access to books for visually impaired and blind people in WIPO, were unable to communicate as much to the rest of the assembly in WIPO. Is my government operating under the assumption that the rest of the WIPO delegations read Swedish media niched at European Union coverage or did they just lack the courage to represent the view of their government in the chamber?
In a system where no one wants to be held ultimately accountable for the changes that are happening, seemingly largely in opposition to the will of the people, isn’t politicizing of the debate actually extremely good? I believe the Pirate Party, and its international cooperation organ PPI, is actually not like other political parties – we are not a highway into public administration. We are exactly that which a political party is supposed to be: a bridge between the political debate that people are having and feeling, and the institutions that can do something about it. It’s time for politicizing to reach WIPO.