WIPO General Assembly: Broadcasting Treaty, Development Agenda and better NGO participation

Because FSFE is about to open an office in Z├╝rich and we’re also preparing some interesting actions for next week, I’m currently quite pressed for time. That is why I decided to shorten my stay at the WIPO General Assembly to two days — and naturally picked the two most interesting days to attend. When I left this afternoon, it appeared that development on both the Broadcasting Treaty and the Development Agenda is quite positive.

Broadcasting Treaty

The diplomatic conference to "wrap things up" for the Broadcasting Treaty was hotly debated and in fact the emerging consensus seemed to be along the lines of holding a diplomatic conference only after some more deliberations, during which an understanding of the basic approach for the treaty should evolve. It also seems secure now that webcasting is not going to be part of that treaty.

Development Agenda

Regarding the Development Agenda, all Member States agreed to continue the discussion. The emerging consensus seemed to come down to a continuation of the discussions in the "Provisional Committee on Proposals related to a WIPO Development Agenda" (PCDA), so at the highest level, while the extremely ineffective "Permanent Committee on Cooperation for Development related to Intellectual Property" (PCIPD) is going to be discontinued. It was a remaining question whether to have two or three weeks of PCDA, but the continuation seemed secure.

How to improve NGO participation

Given our experience at the last sessions of the WIPO committees, and triggered by the experience of having all NGOs speak to an almost entirely deserted room on Wednesday night, we starting discussing the points that we felt were most problematic in the NGO participation.

On the grounds of those discussions and with the help of Barbara Stratton, I drafted a proposal paper on how to improve NGO participation in the future, which we circulated for comments among NGOs and some governments:

    Proposal to improve NGO participation at WIPO

    All NGOs appreciate the opportunity to contribute substantially to
    ongoing negotiations and would in particular like to thank the
    vice-chair for his appreciative chairing of last night's session, when
    the Non-Governmental Organisations were speaking to an almost empty
    room. We understand the difficulties of incorporating NGO
    interventions into the General Assembly and appreciate that many
    Member State delegates had other obligations, but with regard to
    contributing to the work of the other committees of WIPO we would like
    to suggest a more systematic approach of incorporation of NGO
    interventions into their deliberations based on our experience in PCDA
    and SCCR this year.

    Non-Governmental Organisations contribute in an important way to the
    work of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) by
    providing expert and hands-on advice about many of the issues
    discussed by its committees. Different approaches have been tried, and
    not all of them were equally effective in incorporating NGO advice
    into the work of Member State delegations in ongoing negotiations and
    between sessions in a way which would be most useful and helpful to
    the delegates.

    Based on this experience, we encourage the WIPO General Assembly to
    establish two best-practice experiences as general practice to follow
    in WIPO meetings with NGO participation.

    1. The opportunity to speak briefly on each substantive agenda item

    As the first session of the Provisional Committee on proposals
    related to a WIPO Development Agenda (PCDA/1) has shown, it greatly
    improved the efficiency of the meeting if NGOs are given the
    opportunity to speak specifically and briefly (e.g. the normal 3
    minutes) on agenda items, thereby contributing directly and
    pertinently into the discussions, instead of submitting general
    statements on the subject of the entire meeting. We believe this
    facilitates more focussed and helpful participation.

    Adopting this as a general principle will make it possible for NGOs
    to prepare targeted and specific input on agenda items before the
    meeting, instead of having to come up with a statement ad-hoc, or
    having to remain more general in their statement.

    2. Verbatim statements in the report,
    Dissemination of written statements

    NGO statements are generally short, but phrased carefully with the
    entire expert knowledge on the issue in mind. When being rephrased
    for the report, they do not become significantly smaller in
    size. Rephrasing them does however generate additional work for the
    Secretariat, while potentially losing some depth in the carefully
    phrased expert advice.

    During the SCCR/14, NGOs were invited to deliver their comments in
    writing for inclusion in the meeting's papers. These were gathered
    into one file, translated and delivered along with the report to
    the member state delegations and capitals and are available on the
    meeting web page. Having spoken to some delegates at this meeting,
    they have indicated that this was very helpful to them. In order
    to preserve and provide the highest level of expert advice, we
    recommend to make this general practice at WIPO.

    This proposal is supported by the Free Software Foundation Europe
    (FSFE), International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA),
    electronic Information for Libraries (eIFL), IPJustice.org


The response from Member States to this was generally quite positive, only the rightsholder NGOs I spoke to were not thinking that NGO participation in WIPO should be improved in quality, which did come as a surprise. I have to admit I did not expect them to be happy with occasionally speaking to almost empty rooms, and sometimes not at all, only to then have statements loosely paraphrased and subsequently buried in a very large report.

On the side of public interest NGOs, I know there is a strong desire for a more structured approach to allow substantial input on issues when they are still being discussed, and not only after the discussion is already finished.

During the World Summit on the Information Society there was much talk about how global governance is changing, how governments, which are strictly regional, interact with NGOs, which are focussed on specific issues. For this reason, NGOs tend to have broader knowledge across regional boundaries of certain issues, while governments necessarily seek to represent the interests of their countries.

It is precisely this different view on things that can make the dialog fruitful for both sides, and increase the quality of governance overall. But we’re only just beginning to find ways of how to structure this dialog, and it will take some time to find out how the different approaches can be brought together in the most constructive way.

About Georg Greve

Georg Greve is a technologist and entrepreneur. Background as a software developer and physicist. Head of product development and Chairman at Vereign AG. Founding president of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE). Previously president and CEO at Kolab Systems AG, a Swiss Open Source ISV. In 2009 Georg was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit on Ribbon by the Federal Republic of Germany for his contributions to Open Source and Open Standards.
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