Washington Declaration on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest

Despite the slings and arrows of Hurricane Irene hitting Washington a week ago, the recent Global Congress on Intellectual Property Law and the Public Interest has produced an important document calling for more transparency and public participation in the crafting of IP law.The Washington Declaration on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest is an important step in the fight for the public interest and against governments that have been co-opted by copyright and patent owners. Truly a global effort, the Global Congress included over 180 experts from 35 countries in six continents and was held (during Irene!) at American University Washington College of Law.

As argued in my recent article on private copyright enforcement and feedback loops, a deficit of transparency and public participation in private copyright enforcement has fostered gross overreach by copyright owners. A recent example of copyright overreach is amply demonstrated by the so-called Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which was negotiated secretly and addresses far more than mere “counterfeiting.” (See here for a law professors’ letter I’ve signed against ACTA.)

It’s good to see such concerns echoed in the Congress’ just-released Declaration. For example:

International intellectual property policy making should be conducted through mechanisms of transparency and openness that encourage broad public participation. New rules should be made within the existing forums responsible for intellectual property policy, where both developed and developing countries have full representation, and where the texts of and forums for considering proposals are open. All new international intellectual property standards must be subject to democratic checks and balances, including domestic legislative approval and opportunities for judicial review.

Along similar lines, the Declaration calls excessive IP enforcement out to task, noting that “Government and private IP enforcement are commandeering greater social resources in order to impose stricter penalties than ever before, with fewer safeguards and less procedural fairness.” The Declaration contains many other important ideas, such as making sure that new IP protections are rooted in transparent research that demonstrates the need for new IP rights, including addressing the fact that fair uses and other IP limitations also generate economic value. Other important mentions are the importance of libraries and archives, strengthening IP exceptions, rejuvenating notice-based formalities, and much more.

I’d go on, but instead you should read the full document at http://infojustice.org/washington-declaration. Even better, sign it. (I did: I’m # 95.).

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