Intellectual property is a consumer issue
The intellectual property system is often portrayed as a battleground in which the creators of content are pitted against lawless "counterfeiters" and "pirates". Multinational media companies have relied on this perception in order to push governments for stronger and yet stronger intellectual property (or IP) protection in both domestic and international law - a trend which shows no signs of abating.
Yet the picture is profoundly misleading. In fact, the biggest impact of harsh intellectual property laws has not been on commercial counterfeiters, but on ordinary consumers. These unbalanced laws prohibit everyday activities such as uploading a home video with music to YouTube, backing up your DVD collection, creating a fan website - even, in many countries, using a VCR or an iPod. Even if these laws are not enforced (which, too often, they are), they wrongly allow consumers to be branded as thieves and outlaws.
CI has recognised this for some time; for example, it published a groundbreaking report on Copyright and Access to Knowledge in the Asia-Pacific region in 2006, and has sent delegates to a number of recent high level meetings of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
Now, CI's commitment to promoting fair IP laws for consumers - or, to use a short-hand term, "Access to Knowledge" or A2K - has been taken further with the launch of two new global campaigns. The broader project, funded by Ford Foundation, aims to bolster consumer organisations' voices worldwide in trade negotiations and other forums where consumer interests are being marginalised through one-sided IP regimes. The main outcome will be the development of a global consumer dialogue on A2K and could lead to future CI campaigns on communications rights.
The second project, funded by the Open Society Institute (OSI), aims to produce an Access to Knowledge Watch List, which will identify countries whose IP policies and practices are harmful to consumers. This Watch List will be used as a counterbalance to the United States' Special 301 Report, which is an annual report highlighting those countries that supposedly do not provide strong enough protection for the interests of US intellectual property owners.
These related campaigns will be introduced by CI at the third annual meeting of the UN Internet Governance Forumin Hyderabad, India next month. Although not listed on the official programme, this information and networking session will be held on 5 December from 1pm at Room 7 of the IGF venue, and all CI's members and friends are invited. Members and like-minded organisations are also invited to express their interest in joining an online working group to collaborate with CI on these important projects.
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