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Internet Governance 9 November 2012

Sharing and Intellectual Property Protection- An Incongruity?

The thorny relationship between the freedom to share and Intellectual Property (IPR) is hardly new. Traditional IPR regimes have existed with us for nearly 150 years and they have metamorphosed and refashioned with time or so it seems. What is at the heart of Workshop 146, a workshop co-organised by ISOC ambassadors and of which I was invited as a panelist is the question of whether classical IPR is compatible with the pervasive sharing and redistribution of content and intellectual goods over the Internet. 

Our panoply of speakers was bifurcated between those who support strong IPR enforcement to protect the works of authors, right holders and creators from piracy. While the other camp was arguing not for the abolition of IPR but alternatives that would balance the rights of creators and the end users who utilise and these cerebral creations. A notable presence in the panel were children representatives from ChildnNet who chipped in their views on the legality of file-sharing and peer to peer downloads. Their contribution was insightful as many confessed to downloading copyrighted works without express permission from the right holders aka copyright infringement.

As a panelist member, I listened keenly to fellow panelists plus the audience and what I gauged was that a vast majority were considerate to legitimate file sharing but were strongly opposed to draconian approaches to enforcing IPR. In light of the failed attempts by enforcement instruments like ACTA, I contributed by discussing the consequences that the adversarial nature these tools could have on developing countries. I stated that developing countries are usually hapless in resisting multi-national corporate interests that are vested in safeguarding their IPRs using such treaties vis-a-vis comparative national legislations. Even without being a signatory of ACTA , TPP or likewise multilateral agreements, developing countries which have a disproportionately unfavourable trade balance and over reliance on aid will eventually capitulate to and accede to such instruments.

The consequences of which could be the stifling of innovation, overbearing punishments for accessing copyrighted content and even a more insidious repercussion is social injustices such as placing unsurmountable burdens to the poor in accessing life saving drugs and generic medicines vital to the treatment of incurable diseases.

I anticipated that the concerted efforts to blackout websites over SOPA/PIPA and the vigorous protests and lobbying against ACTA witnessed in the EU displayed a strong message to lawmakers and the interests behind strong IPR regimes; Strident enforcement is deeply unpopular and that alternative business models should be sought after. There are several approaches being proffered to solve this problem such as Creative Commons and Open Source models but these models may not satisfy everyone. Nevertheless, this something to ponder about and indeed as the Internet becomes ever more disruptive in every facet of society IPRs should evolve with the times.

April Fools Day is coming. Prank your friends opening a never ending fake update screen on their computer. Sit back and watch their reaction.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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