Intellectual property rights (IPRs) are an important open society issue because they govern the ownership and control of knowledge. A vibrant “knowledge ecology”—one based on a balance between private property rights and the commons—is key to a thriving public sphere, an effective education system, the advancement of the sciences as well as the development of open societies.
IPRs are a powerful means to restrict the access, exchange, and creation of knowledge and knowledge-based goods—or, conversely, to enable equitable access and ensure creativity and innovation. IPRs, most importantly copyright and patents, affect everything from patterns of economic growth, to affordable and free communications on the internet, to the availability and price of textbooks, scientific journals, software and drugs. However, in recent decades, the global IPR regime has become unbalanced, often ignoring the needs of poorer countries and threatening to hinder the emergence of new ways to foster creativity and innovation.
The aim of the Intellectual Property Reform Initiative is to bring global intellectual property rules back into balance. Initially, we concentrated on reforming the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), where advocacy we supported led to a more public-facing model of rule-making, the adoption of the WIPO Development Agenda, and the introduction of a draft WIPO Treaty for the Visually Impaired. This proposed treaty has a real chance of being adopted in the coming months and would, for the first time, create a global mandate for the protection of user rights in copyright law. We also underwrote efforts to adopt balanced national copyright laws in strategically important countries.
Fair Use Rights
In 2013–14, the Information Program will continue to focus on concrete efforts to strengthen fair use rights. Fair use rights (also known as copyright limitations and exceptions) are essential to enabling access to knowledge, especially for disadvantaged groups such as the blind. But these rights are being increasingly curtailed as digital formats and platforms begin to dominate knowledge dissemination. We will be supporting efforts that will:
- Advocate for the adoption of a WIPO Treaty for the Visually Impaired.
- Explore the need for international standards for fair use rights in other areas such as distance education, research and library services.
- Advocate for strong fair use rights in influential national and regional fora.
The Information Program is also concerned about the increasing use of far-reaching private contracts which override statutory fair use rights. There is as yet very little public understanding of the effects that these private arrangements may have on user rights, so we plan to support monitoring and advocacy on this issue in the coming years.
The Copyright Enforcement Agenda
Another major area of concern is the current intellectual property enforcement agenda which is often secretly advanced at different levels of policy making. Copyright industry interests continue to lobby for aggressive copyright enforcement techniques to be implemented by internet service providers, proposals which threaten both the rights of internet users to privacy, free expression and due process as well as the innovative potential of the internet. Building on the successful campaign against ACTA in Europe, the Information Program will support efforts that will:
- Conduct research and educate policy makers about the threat of widespread “collateral damage” posed by copyright enforcement proposals.
- Advocate for strong human rights and due process protections in copyright enforcement.
The Intellectual Property Reform Initiative will consider applications from new partners in line with the above stated priorities. If you are considering applying for funding under this initiative, please send a one-page concept paper to firstname.lastname@example.org. The paper should include the following information:
- A brief description of the project goals and planned activities;
- Information about the applicant organization and project partners;
- An idea of how much your project will cost
Funds to support intellectual property reform work around the world are limited, and the Intellectual Property Reform Initiative has a full program of work for 2013. We are open to applications for projects from new partners; however please keep in mind that we are able to only fund a limited number of the many applications we receive. We endeavor to respond to applications for funds which meet the criteria specified within two months.