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Public Awareness of Copyright, WIPO, June 2002

by Richard Stallman

Geofrey Yu, Assistant Director General in charge of Copyright at WIPO, said this in a paper “Public Awareness of Copyright”, in June 2002. It is interesting that WIPO is starting to find that the hypocrisy of describing a system of restricting the public as a matter of “rights” is starting to backfire on them.

First the message. For it to go over well, I recommend downplaying the reference to ‘rights’. the term itself is perfectly acceptable, but in daily usage, it has a negative connotation of rights without corresponding obligations and has a [sic] ‘us’ against ‘them’ implication. This won't do, therefore, as we want to win the public and consumer to our side. Unfortunately, we cannot turn the clock back and find a new term in place of ‘copyright’ but we can at least down-play the term ‘rights’. The WIPO Performance and the Phonograms Treaty (WPPT) is about the protection of performers and phonogram producers. The word ‘right’ is happily missing in their titles. And we should take out cure from them.

Within the copyright community such as we are today in this room, it is fine to refer to artists, composers, performers and enterprises as ‘rights holders’. But it is poor public relations to employ the same terms when speaking to politicians, consumers users and the public. With them, we must use the terms devoid of legal jargon, terms, which are at least as neutral or better still, inclusive,conveying meanings with which the public can identify. So ‘rights holders’ should become painters, writers, sculptors, musicians. What goes down well today with general audiences are terms like ‘culture’, ‘creativity’, ‘information’ , ‘entertainment’, ‘cultural diversity’, ‘cultural heritage’, ‘reward for creativity’, ‘cultural enrichment’. And when we talk to youngsters, terms like ‘fun’, ‘hip’, and ‘cool’ will find an echo. We must find the right slogans too. At WIPO we coined a slogan for a Geneva cultural festival that we sponsored which went “Soutenons les artistes et respectons leurs creations.”

In the same way, in our public outreach messages, it is better to avoid terms like “copyright industries”. To call music making and movie-making “copyright industries” is to cast a business which is about people, imagination, fun, and creative energy in a money-centred, legalistic light. It is like calling car-making a patent industry. If we must use the term “copyright” for brevity's sake, let us call the industries “copyright-based industries”.

To sum up, what I would suggest is we down-play business and economics when speaking to the public and stress more the human, creative, inspirational angle.

What can we see here? First, look how openly WIPO admits (among friends) that it takes the side of the copyright holders. There isn't even a fig leaf for the interests of anyone else, or even for the idea that copyright must be required to benefit the public (by promoting progress at a reasonable social cost).

Another is that the irony that the term “Intellectual Property Rights” was adopted by the monopoly holders, precisely so that they could present their privileges as rights that could not be denied. The idea that they might have obligations as well as rights, or that their power might be limited, is supposed to be unthinkable. And who would ever believe that the music and movie factories were “money-centred and legalistic”?

If the hypocrisy of “intellectual property rights” is starting to backfire on WIPO, this does not mean we should use that term ourselves. If we did, we would be spreading WIPO-style hypocrisy, whether we intended to or not.


 [FSF logo] “The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is a nonprofit with a worldwide mission to promote computer user freedom. We defend the rights of all software users.”


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