I wrote this column with my recently-concluded internship in Geneva still fresh in my mind. The title of this piece was inspired by Joëlle Kuntz’ book Geneva and the Call of Internationalism, a short but informative work on the small Swiss city’s history as the top host to international organizations.
I was in Geneva this month as an intern for Intellectual Property Watch, an online news site on intellectual property policy and law. As an intern, I was able to meet some officials from United Nations organizations that deal with intellectual property and wrote on pressing industry issues for the publication.
Topping the list of impressions from my short stay in the multi-cultural city is the increasing focus of top intergovernmental bodies and private organizations on the impact of the Internet and the wave of digitization on global policy issues.
To illustrate, the UN Human Rights Council held a panel discussion last February 29 on the Right to Freedom of Expression on the Internet, a first for the UN and my first coverage
of an important UN event. The experience was a bit astonishing with UN delegates, known for their strict protocol, made a lengthy and heated debate on a topic as young and as versatile as the Internet.
I had been warned before the event that a Human Rights Council meeting is always “emotion-packed.” And it turned out to be one, with all member countries, including the Philippines, fighting for a chance to be heard by the panel.
The participants, who included guests from private companies such as Google, all recognized the right of each individual to access the Internet – a right stipulated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The article reads: “Everyone has
the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
There were, however, differences on how the Internet should be regulated or if it should be regulated at all. More democratic countries such as Sweden, Internet companies such as Google and concerned private organizations such as the Internet Society (ISOC), which advocates a free and open Internet, are against over-regulation of the Internet.
Other countries led by China, on the other hand, noted the need for more government involvement citing abuses of the Internet, among them, child pornography and terrorism.
The link to the video of China intervention, speaking for other countries including the Philippines, is here.
The first-of-its kind discussion did not resolve the issue concerning regulating the Internet, but it is seen as an important step towards creating in the future an intergovernmental policy on the issue.
At the World Intellectual Property Organizations (WIPO), another UN body, the impact of the Internet on intellectual property protection is also a pressing concern. WIPO
is now undertaking a “Digital Future Project” which looks into issues related to copyright in the digital environment.
WIPO’s senior legal counsellor for the project Victor Vazquez Lopez in an interview said that as a result of developments on the Internet, the role of the Internet intermediaries or online third-party providers is now the main challenge in copyright protection. There is now an on-going debate regarding liability of Internet intermediaries in relation to copyright infringement.
All of these only prove that the Internet has come a long way – albeit still young with the World Wide Web invented by Tim-Berners Lee in the early 90s – and has now reached the world’s top policy-making bodies.
Maricel is currently attending an LL.M. Program in Intellectual Property and Competition Law at the Munich Intellectual Property Law Center — our direct connection to Europe’s technology scene, and an international point of view of the Intellectual Property Law. You can reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org