Open access and the new WIPO director

This week, the World Intellectual Property Organization named a new director general, Francis Gurry of Australia. In his acceptance speech, Gurry called for the world “IP” system to serve the goals of access to knowledge and information equity. He also commended the goals of the Development Agenda. Both are welcome statements from the new DG. Of course, that’s not all he said, and that’s what I want to analyze here, particularly vis-à-vis open access.

  • In his acceptance speech, Gurry calls upon countries to develop “National Intellectual Property and Innovation Strategies”. His own country, Australia, recently released a report on its innovation system which called for OA to public sector information and to publicly-funded research.
  • Gurry also calls for a greater role for evidence in IP policy-making, noting:

    … The [WIPO] Secretariat needs to be better equipped with resources for economic research and statistics in order to provide the Member States with a sound empirical basis for reflection. I intend to establish a Division for this purpose. …

    The need for evidence-based policy-making echoes a call in the Adelphi Charter (see previous OAN posts) and many others (e.g.). As someone who thinks that evidence will bear out the merits of OA, a greater role for evidence in policy-making (and an accordingly lesser role for shrill lobbying) would be a welcome development.

  • Gurry also echoes another welcome theme for IP policy, against maximalism for the sake of maximalism:

    … [I]t is useful to remember that intellectual property is not an end in itself. It is an instrumentality for achieving certain public policies, most notably, through … copyright, the stimulation and diffusion of innovation and creativity on which we have become so dependent … In the end, our debates and discussions are about how intellectual property can best serve those underlying policies: whether modifying the international framework will enhance or constrain innovation and creativity and contribute to their diffusion …

  • Not all of Gurry’s comments are so favorable. He notes with concern that the Internet raises “the most radical of threats” to 20th century business models for creative content, and states that “[t]he widespread illegal downloading of music and films from the Internet raises more generally the question of respect for intellectual property”. Although OA is a wildly different question than unauthorized downloading of pop songs, we have seen repeated efforts to equate them (mostly recently by Rep. Howard Berman’s linking of the NIH policy with Napster) in order to raise fear, uncertainty, doubt, and to distract from the many valid and pressing arguments in favor of OA. That Gurry gives such credence to content industry concerns suggests a certain bias in favor of protectionism and against openness, and that he may be able to be mislead by the same claims.
  • More broadly, Gurry’s comments focus largely on economic rather than scientific concerns, although both are subject to the same IP system over which he now presides. Where he discusses science, it’s about developing new technologies and solutions to global challenges, and mostly not about the advancement of learning and inquiry. This suggests the direction of Gurry’s priorities for WIPO. While OA requires no changes to the global IP framework, there are a number of amendments to national or international law which could benefit research and education, from guaranteeing the public domain status of data to strengthening limitations and exceptions for academic purposes. Based on the priorities evinced in his acceptance speech, the interests of scientists and students will be of less concern to Gurry than those of Miramax and Metallica.
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