24 February 2006

Watching IP Watch

Another great site revealed by Open Access News and the indefatigable Peter Suber: IP Watch. Intellectual property - the very term is hated by people like Richard Stallman - is one of those areas that can make your toes curl just at the thought of the mind-numbing subtleties and complexities involved. But make no mistake: this is an area that matters, and more than ever as the analogue and digital worlds are becoming fuzzy at the edges, and people are tempted to apply old analogue rules to new digital creations.

This lends one story on IP Watch a particular importance, since it deals with the thorny area of balancing rights of digital access and protection. What makes the story particularly interesting is that it reports on a "side event" of a World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) meeting.

Now, this may not seem like a big deal, but traditionally WIPO has been all about protecting the intellectual property rights of big content "owners" - record companies, the film industry, etc. So the idea that there could be some discussion about the other side of the coin - access rights - even at a non-official meeting, was a tiny but momentous step.

The end of the journey, which promises to be both long and arduous, is a recognition that access is just as important as protection, that the open approach is as valid as the proprietary one. Although this might seem milk and water stuff to long-time proponents of free software and related movements, it would be truly revolutionary if WIPO ever reached such a point.

Indeed, I would go so far as to predict that WIPO will be one of the last bastions to fall when it comes to recognising that a fresh wind is blowing through the world of intellectual domains - and that these domains might just be commons rather than property as WIPO's own name so prominently and problematically assumes.

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