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Economy 23 October 2013

Building bridges to protect creativity

Konstantinos Komaitis
By Konstantinos KomaitisSenior Director, Policy Development and Strategy

On my way to Bali for the 2013 Internet Governance Forum (IGF), I realize that there are a lot of expectations and hopes for this meeting. Lately, the Internet governance landscape has been changing in important and dynamic ways. Whether one thinks about surveillance and privacy or whether one’s concerns are about the demarcation of roles and responsibilities of the participating actors, the Internet governance framework is going through a phase where discussions are moving fast and in all directions. 

The theme of this year’s IGF could not be more timely – ”Building bridges: Enhancing Multistakeholder Cooperation for growth and sustainable development”; and, this theme truly captures current needs and the essence of the priorities we need to be setting regarding the processes of Internet governance. 

The IGF is the place where the Internet community discusses, deliberates, argues, concurs and generally shapes discussions that guide other discussions in other fora, which guide other discussions in other fora and so on and so forth. The majority of this year’s debtaes will undeniably focus on the Snowden revelations, the role of the state and its impact on the Internet; this is to be expected. However, for the purposes of this blog and given my engagement in the IGF, I have decided to focus on how legal frameworks — especially those of copyright and intellectual property – can better be shaped through collaborative efforts and, more generally, how they need to account for an open and interoperable Internet. 

Copyright and Intellectual Property

There is really no other area of Internet governance where building bridges is more essential than in the area of copyright and intellectual property. For many years now, the copyright debate has been characterized by how divorced the ideas are from each other and how difficult it is becoming for actors to come closer and find mutually accepted solutions on issues like the boundaries of copyright law and the role of the Internet in assisting and encouraging creativity and ideas. 

Law, including copyright law, is normally needed in order to provide answers to behaviors and to draw lines regarding the permissible framework of actions or inactions of individuals. Law seeks to protect the public at large and ensure a level of consistency regarding social welfare; to do this it has to apply and, subsequently, adhere to minimum standards of justice. In the context of the Internet, however, law needs to account for an additional value –how to protect the open architecture of the Internet and sustain the Internet’s generative nature. This is not an arbitrary need; it stands alongside and is as relevant as the need to protect the public at large. 

The idea that the Internet is currently an all-encompassing medium of political, social and economic empowerment and expression is not new. By now, we all have unwittingly accepted that the Internet is part of our everyday lives. However, many of us take the Internet and its resilience for granted. And, copyright is one of the policy areas that has taken — and, to an extent, it continues to do so — the Internet for granted.  Recent examples, including the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement (TPP) or the industry driven initiatives — demonstrate how detached copyright policy is from the realities of the Internet, its standardization development processes and what the Internet is ultimately all about.

The Internet is all about innovation

Innovation is an ingrained notion within the technical community’s philosophy – a philosophy that has allowed the Internet to become a successful and empowering tool. One could claim that a similar philosophy can be identified in the case of copyright policy. This is a significant detail if one considers that copyright regimes originally were crafted on promoting creativity either in the form of progressing science or through artistic expression.

This creativity nexus, however, has been lost somewhere along the way. As we engaged in the debate, many lost sight of copyright’s goal to provide a fair balance of rights, to protect the free expression of ideas and, ultimately to be a conduit for creativity. And, in losing sight of copyright’s original purpose, we have harmed the Internet (and we continue to do so). We have messed with its architecture either by ordering massive domain name takedowns or by employing filtering mechanisms; we have resisted its generative nature by proposing policies that see content protected or ‘locked’ through Digital Rights Management  (DRM) rules; and, we have questioned the way it has re-organized the role of the participating actors by asking Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to monitor traffic and user behavior.

The IGF in Bali provides us with the unique opportunity to take a step back and start true collaborative efforts. The IGF is the perfect platform – one of the few last remaining – to build bridges, to reach out to different stakeholder groups and to put the preservation of the global Internet at the top of our agendas: the protection of the Internet as an open platform of innovation and creativity should become a key policy objective for all stakeholders – governments, civil society organizations and the private sector.

Let’s take advantage of the IGF to protect the Internet and creative expression.

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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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