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Intellectual Property Rights and Free Trade: Third Question to Ethan Zuckerman

July 9, 2012

Third Question: To finalize, I would like to problematize the role of modern democratic state regarding those current issues!! In a geopolitical context, it is very common to divide the globe between North (former metropolis, exception to the U.S. or what become to be known as ‘developed’ countries) and South (former colonies or what become to be known as ‘developing’ countries). When come to the point to debate about implementation of international public policies (affecting copyright and patent), the state has legitimacy to represent their citizens internationally. Most say that the dispute concerning the sharing knowledge and the transfer of technology is a dispute between the global North and the global South. Do you agree? Talking more specifically about ACTA, an agreement mostly led by the US government. Can ACTA restrict or increase the access of knowledge and technology to all US citizens.

EZ: I am not a huge fan of the North/South framing that you are proposing. I think it is a oversimplification of the issues. I think what’s ended up happening it is because so many industries that rely on Intellectual Property are in the North and because this is a certain of battles happening in the international circles where nations individually have votes and the ability to certain to make decisions on. I think that there is an enormous amount of pressure from particular governments in the North, mostly from the United States, on governments on the South. But, I really think what this is, it’s a state, in this case the United States, that is subjected to significant, subjected to a really significant corporation capture, trying to do the best for those corporations, you know, they are trying to do the best for those corporations in Japan, in Korea, in Europe. I don’t think this is the North lining up and saying, hey, let’s screw the South. The other interesting thing about this is that when you put these aggressive restrictions into place it actually becomes a very interesting tool for the South to figure out how to use, to deal with knowledge that is produced within that context. I think there are enormous concerns around the issue of Intellectual Property. And I understand why the side that want to question the current system, a side which I’m on by the way, wants to frame it in North/South because then it becomes very equitable, we’re on the side of the empowerishing and the poor, if we only get rid of those restrictions we ll have all the access we need, I just don’t think that is that simple.

TB: Just to clarify I don’t agree with that framework. It is just because I have to divide more or less the dispute between North (developed)/South (developing) and I haven’t been able to find actually a concept that, you know…

EZ: I think one way to say, it… I don’t know this is a battle between nations so much as it is a battle between producers and consumers. And nations where producers have a lot of political power are going to end up in one side of it whereas nations with a lot of poor consumers are going to end up in a different side of it. I think if we have the opportunity to really rethink Intellectual Property and policy, we’d probably have a serious conversation about how we balance creator’s right, consumer’s right, access to knowledge, access to medicine. I think if we are going start from scratch, we can sit down and try to come up with some principles and try to balance all those interests. Instead we are coming into a system that is terribly skewed in one direction. And because it is terrible skewed in that one direction, we find ourselves sort of fighting a gorilla action. And so, my friends who want to fight the copyright lobby, the Intellectual Property lobby are working with blind groups, because it is one way to get an exception, it is to say, you can’t put those all rights management on this because it is going to restrict access for the blind. I think the access to knowledge movement which essentially says, look if you really going to make textbooks this incredible expensive and protected by copyright, how do you deal with the developing world? The flip side it is also we have also people who try to create te alternative, and essentially say, can we create that content out there under the Creative Commons, it is available to be shared, maybe we can build around rather than trying to fight the copyright industry. I understand why we tend to bring it in to the very big North and South. But I think in many ways we do better just sort of being clear. If you are Walt Disney and you own a lot of content, if you are GlaxoSmithKleine and you own a lot of content. You want as strong protection anywhere in the world as you get them. If you are Nigerian and you have a hundred million of citizens who are under the age of 21 and in need of education, you want education material as cheap as possible. If you are South African and you are dealing with HIV/AIDS on a crisis level you want access to vital medicine and it seems to me like, we should be thinking about that balance of wants and needs rather than turning again into the Neo-Colonialism.

TB: Thank you!

EZ: Absolutely!

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