Report on CI's Asia-Pacific regional meeting on A2K

The first of Consumers International's regional meetings on Access to Knowledge, held this week in Kuala Lumpur, was a considerable success in establishing the programme of the global consumer movement for its work on intellectual property and A2K over the next few years. In addition, the meeting served a valuable regional capacity building function, with over forty participants attending, thirteen of them giving presentations on the issues for consumers in their country around Access to Knowledge, communications rights and access to the Internet.

The meeting agenda contains links to all of the slide presentations that were given, including the keynote presentation on Intellectual Property as a Consumer Issue. A video of highlights from the meeting will also be uploaded to Consumers International's YouTube channel in the near future.

CI's activities on A2K

CI's initial activities on Access to Knowledge include its IP Watch List and consumer survey on barriers to accessing copyright material. Introductory presentations were given on both activities, and all participants took part in a workshop in which they administered the first phase of the consumer survey to each other.

The most important outcome of this exercise was that members requested CI to provide a commentary to the questions asked in the first phase of the consumer survey, which could explain their intent, provide example answers, and suggest follow-up questions. This will be made available to members shortly.

Commitments to assist with the IP Watch List and consumer survey were received from these members:

  • Consumers Association of Bangladesh
  • Consumers Fiji
  • Hong Kong Consumer Council
  • CAI India
  • CAG India
  • CPC Cuddalore
  • VOICE India
  • CERC India
  • Consumers Lebanon
  • FOMCA Malaysia
  • IBON Foundation Philippines
  • CASE Singapore
  • Foundation for Consumers Thailand
  • CUTS Vietnam

In addition, Consumers Korea had already prepared an IP Watch List report, and SEWA Nepal agreed to participate in the consumer survey only.

Reports from CI's members and partners

As mentioned above, reports were presented by thirteen of those attending at the meeting:

  • CASE Singapore, mentioning that Singapore blocks 100 Web sites on a purely symbolic basis; 
  • CERC India, pointing out the low penetration of broadband access in India at 3.7% (Consumers Association of India also prepared a report, but there was only time for one report from India to be presented);
  • Consumer Council of Fiji, which explained that there is very weak enforcement of copyright restrictions in Fiji;
  • Consumers Korea, who pointed to the ready availability in Korea of software to bypass DRM restrictions;
  • Consumers Lebanon, indicating that copyright restrictions on copying entire books were not widely observed in Lebanon;  
  • Foundation for Consumers Thailand, reporting that teachers are encouraged to write their own textbooks in Thailand, and that government-published books are subject to price controls;
  • NCOS Japan, who revealed that in Japan a licence for personal copying is built in to the purchase cost of electronic goods;
  • Hong Kong Consumer Council, discussing the provision by the government of free public Internet access;
  • IBON Foundation Philippines, which noted that the use, not merely the sale, of pirated goods is being targetted in the Philippines although it is not strictly illegal; 
  • Creative Commons Jordan, stating that its strict IP laws are attributable to its Free Trade Agreement with the United States;
  • VINASTAS, who reported that the Vietnam government had targetted 100% adoption of FOSS by 2010; and
  • YLKI Indonesia, focussing on the availability of textbooks, which until the 1990s were provided for free by the government.

Strategy setting

The final session of the day was for the development of a strategic plan on intellectual property for the global consumer movement over the next two to three years. This was conducted in the form of a brainstorming/mind-mapping session.

The outcome of this session was that a number of clusters of priority ideas were identified. The highest priority cluster was clearly global policy advocacy, followed by capacity building. The full list of priorities identified by cluster are as follows (some have been abbreviated or edited):

Global policy advocacy

  • Campaign for compliance with Watch List criteria to be a defence to TRIPS violations.
  • Consumers, governments and businesss need to be educated about A2K. For example, companies and lawyers should learn of alternative IP protection solutions that might be beneficial.
  • Campaign for publication of the Watch List in WIPO.
  • Promotion of IP alternatives like FOSS and Creative Commons.
  • Balance between consumer and company rights needs to be found.
  • Promotion of FOSS and open standards through consumer education and government policy.
  • The development of a consumer logo that can be awarded to companies for preserving consumers' rights.
  • Promote new copyright exceptions for a "personal communications right" or "consumer use".
  • CI should make its presence felt at negotiations of IP-related conventions/treaties to ensure consumer protection is included.
  • Attempt to include A2K issues in the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection.
  • Develop more targetted solutions for implementation of these objectives.
  • Develop the link between consumer rights and communications rights.
  • Document the actual harm suffered from IP enforcement by content providers and end users.
  • Intermediate with ICANN to develop a better UDRP policy to promote the interests of consumers/users rather than big corporations.

Capacity building

  • Technical support to empower CI members on communications rights.
  • Technical support to empower CI members on A2K.
  • IP laws in relation to consumers need to be demystified.
  • Provide advocacy and education to CI members.
  • Beyond access to knowledge, the capacity of people to use knowledge has to be improved.
  • IP needs to be made relevant to consumers depending on current access levels and development levels.
  • More education is required - simplify IP laws/terms in simple layman's terms and allow for discussion and dialogue with experts.

Development

  • Apply preferential treatment to work on locally adapting copyright materials to provide easy access.
  • CI should create a community to oversee the transformation of information into local content.
  • Digital campaign to empower the use of Internet in sub-urban and rural areas.
  • Advocate for communication rights to access telecommunications.
  • Work on rural area penetration of ICT/telecoms infrastructure.
  • Need a country guide with specific recommendations for developing countries in the form of a model law.

Education

  • Level the playing field in terms of access to academic materials and knowledge among academics and tertiary students in the developing world.
  • Remove the limits to what one can copy for educational purposes.
  • Advocate to the government that quality learning material should be made available at a price the common man can pay, beginning with campaigns and media sensitisation.
  • Conduct national consumer surveys to identify target areas for activism such as technology and education. 

Communications rights

  • Protection of consumers' privacy should be upheld.
  • Internet access should be affordable for every consumer - the government should work on making access to the Internet free.

Disability

  • Disabled people, particularly the blind, face many barriers which need to be addressed.
  • Disabled people have no proper infrastructure to use the Internet - and cost is also a factor.

Miscellaneous

  • Rename the A2K campaign to be less misleading as to the inclusion of films, music and software.

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