The Vienna Conclusion: Sponsorship+Politics=Influence

In June 2005, the Austrian government has been holding a very high-level conference on "ICT & Creativity" as part of the WSIS process. The dignitaries included Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, Director-General of UNESCO Koichiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNIDO Carlos Magarinos and many others. Contributions came from people as renowned as Peter Sloterdijk or Professor Joseph Weizenbaum. You get the idea.

The conference had multiple panels on different issues, and I participated in the panel on "Digital Rights / Creative Commons" along with Richard Owens (Director of Copyright E-Commerce, Technology and Management Division, WIPO), Georg Pleger (Creative Commons Austria), Peter Rantasa (Managing Director, Music Information Center Austria), which was chaired by Nii Narku Quaynor (Chairman and CEO, Network Computer Systems Limited, Republic of Ghana).

The rapporteur of my session was Ralf Bendrath (http://worldsummit2005.org), who summarised the findings of the panel for the conference outcome, coordinating it with all the panelists before sending it in.

After that, we never heard back from the conference, so this is the first time I see the end result myself. Surprisingly, the text I now found in the "ICT+CREATIVITY=CONTENT" labelled brochure "The Vienna Conclusions" is remarkably different from what the panel actually concluded. For your reference, the text is included below.

Primarily: Notions of Free Software have disappeared entirely. In its place you now find the following sentence:

To ensure ongoing innovation, Digital Rights Management (DRM) development and deployment must remain voluntary and market-driven. 

 

Wait a minute. Not only does Digital Restrictions Management have nothing to do with innovation, the Sony Rootkit Case has also shown that hardly anything is ever voluntary about it. But it does have severe implications to several essential civil and human rights. That is why the panel in Vienna was very critical of DRM.

So where did this come from, you may wonder? I have an idea.

One of the main sponsors of the events happened to be Microsoft, and a few of the organisers confidentially told me Microsoft was very unhappy about my participation; to the extent of threatening to leave the conference.

So instead of getting to throw my person out, it seems Microsoft now got to rewrite what the panel actually said.

The conference used lots of formulas like "ICT+Creativity=Content", which also implied that "Content-ICT=Creativity". In this light, I guess what we’ve seen here is the good old formula

Sponsorship+Politics=Influence

And this is definitely not something that can be blamed on the Tunisian government, which has received a lot of heat during this summit. It goes to show things are never black and white here.

So this is the entire text of the workshop. Not the best text I’ve ever participated in, but — especially considering all players involved — also not the worst. You’re invited to pick up the printed version and compare:

Text of Workshop 2 for Vienna Conclusions

Digital Rights and Creative Commons

Human creativity in its expression, results and distribution thereof is currently undergoing a massive transformation. This fundamentally affects the rights of all of humankind. The rights of artists, musicians, scientists, writers, designers, programmers and other creative people must be preserved and strengthened to express themselves freely in their work, to develop and communicate through all media, and to determine how their works are used, including whether they are used for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Because we all can be producers and distributors of content now, everybody should also have a right to get education that builds capacity and enables these cultural expressions. The public – as users, consumers, and citizens – has a right to access and use information and knowledge. This includes fair access to culture, but also a protection of fundamental human rights and civil liberties like privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of information, and the rule of law.

The new possibilities of content production and distribution also impact incentive structures and underlying economic models. The worldwide copyright system is currently undergoing a transformation giving more choices to creators and users. Increasingly, revenue is generated not by selling content and digital works, as they can be freely distributed at almost no cost, but by offering services on top of them. The success of the Free Software model is one example, licenses like "Creative Commons" that only reserve some rights and permit wide use and distribution is another. Distributed collaborative production models like Wikipedia also show that there are other incentives than money to create quality content.

In the digital age , the business models of copyright intermediaries will only be viable if they offer quality services on top of the content. The challenge ahead is to develop an economy of sharing, collaboration and service that will, at least in the near term, coexist with the traditional economy of scarcity, control and technological restrictions. Our knowledge and culture is the reservoir from which new content is created and in which creativity finds its fertile ground. It must therefore remain accessible to the public under reasonable and fair conditions. Copyrights and patents were developed in part to create incentives for production of quality content, and their role should be reexamined in order to meet this goal in the future while safeguarding the public interest in access to information and culture.

Software must be understood as the cultural technique of a digital society. With ICTs permeating all aspects of everyday life, software acts as social regulator. Similar to law it controls essential parts of human interaction and creativity. Unlike law it knows no exceptions and is ultimately binding. It is therefore seminal for society to shape, make transparent and control the codified rules that in turn shape society. This is where freedom as a fundamental human right and prerequisite of democracy meets collaborative creative approaches. Political freedom in the digital age depends upon technological freedom, which ensures access to the cultural heritage of humankind for present and future generations.

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1 comment to The Vienna Conclusion: Sponsorship+Politics=Influence

  • The next Vienna Conclusion: So it WAS Microsoft that asked to delete Free Software

    The ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation) features areport in its futurezone.orf.at section about the Free Software censorship described in my blog entry “The Vienna Conclusion: Sponsorship+Polit…

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