The second day of the Provisional Committee on a Development Agenda (PCDA) for WIPO is now over, and despite the voiced concerns of many people I spoke to, it did enter substantive discussion.
Theoretically the proposal of the African group was supposed to be discussed first. But as they needed some more time for preparation, Chile agreed to present its proposal first. The Chilean proposal is indeed quite a good read, and contains some very strong insights on the public domain, Free Software and policy assessment. In short: the public domain became the subject of the day.
Although economies like the United States were initially founded on ignoring the Copyright of others, effectively turning all their material into a kind of public domain, some countries — including the United States — tried to argue that the public domain did not encourage economic growth and investment. Raising this as a point against the importance of the public domain is not only economically nonsensical, it also demonstrates an amazing blindness to non-economic values of culture.
It seems that working at WIPO has cost many people the ability to see culture and knowledge as anything else than economic value. The inspiration drawn from the history of humankind, the sparkle of human igenuity, the fundamental feelings, the social groups that form on the basis of certain cultural exchanges, all this appears irrelevant.
Indeed: many people were entirely dumbfounded by the phrase "protecting the public domain" because the term "protection" to them only meant "monopolisation", which obviously makes no sense in the context of the public domain.
It took an excellent statement by Brazil to clear up that confusion and explain that indeed the public domain needs to be protected from being propertised, from encroachments on the public wealth for the undue benefit of a few.
My personal two surprises of the day were the statement by Mexico, which spent 90% of its time on Free Software, arguing that it should not be discussed at WIPO because it was already discussed at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). This sounded rather familiar, because at the WSIS they seemed to be saying that it should rather be discussed at WIPO.
But seriously: Free Software is to the largest part based on copyright, it is an alternative copyright-based model, if you will. So if WIPO is not the place to discuss copyright issues, what is? Fortunately, that rebuttal was indeed made by Chile somewhat later. And in any case it was interesting to see so many countries making points about Free Software — it was obviously on the minds of many delegations, which is good.
The second surprise was the frequency with which people kept bringing up the WSIS process and its results at this meeting. At the IIM process last year, I seemed to be the only one making those references — suddenly the entire room appears to be overflowing with them. The Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) even made it into the African Group proposal.
That proposal is what will start the discussion tomorrow, possibly followed by the US proposal, but only the chair knows that for certain.
If you want to read some more, I recommend today’s CSC statement, IP Justice statement, TWN statement, 3D statement and of course all the other information sources and blogs, in particular: Karsten Gerloff’s blog and the IP-Watch article for the day.