International Policy Network
1 October 2002
Amir Ullah Khan
A mindset problem: the CIPR report sounds racist
on Intellectual Property Rights, comprising a body of lawyers and
academics, was convened by Britain's Department for International
Development to look at how IPR can work to the benefit of the world's
poor countries. The commission's report has been published on September
12th and makes recommendations for developing countries and suggests
ways in which they should indegenise IPR protection to suit their
problem against the report, as I focus on chapter 5 on copyrights,
is the archaic mindset that seems to be the foundation of much of
what has been written. Firstly the report assumes that all knowledge
is sacred and therefore must be in public domain. Secondly, that intellectual
property rights restrict the flow of ideas. A third fascinating proposition
is that societies can close the knowledge gap only through theft and
imitation. This one is clearly racist. More on this point later.
expand my arguments. In ancient India, as in most of the Orient, knowledge
developed in the temple. All expression was aimed at appeasing their
gods. People sang, created music and danced in various forms of prayer.
And as all this was religious, it was sacrilege to commercialize knowledge.
In practice, however, a crass form of protectionism existed. Any commoner
who dared recite the verses had hot oil poured down his ears, and
the Brahmin continued his monopoly. The point being that if the rule
of law is not established, a rule of the mighty prevails. In suggesting
that more laws are bad, the report makes the same mistake. If the
nascent IPR legislation is not reviewed and clarified, a similar problem
would arise, and the monopolist would use all means at his disposal
to curb competition and restrict markets.
in this context, make knowledge available, and provide incentives
to copyright holders to divulge information. And this is the second
point I would like to make. Faced with a situation where expression
would result in copying and allow others to make profits without paying
the author, a large number of people would simply carry their work
to their graves. And public access to information and ideas would
suffer. Therefore the importance of protecting copyrights. And again,
the CIPR argues otherwise. It suggests that IPRs restrict dissemination
of knowledge. But it is patently obvious that an incentive system
always encourages enterprise. Where software developers are promised
returns on work done, there will be more software developed. And basic
economics tells us that as supply goes up, prices come down. So also
with increased competition. The entire system of intellectual property
rights aims at instituting a process where authors and inventors are
given adequate incentive to work on new ideas.
quotes UNESCO's World Information report - "The fact is that
copyright ownership is largely in the hands of the major industrialized
nations and of the major multimedia corporations placing low per capita
income countries as well as smaller economies at a significant disadvantage"
- and this is unexplained. What disadvantage? If poor per capita countries
were denied access to works by way of refusal to divulge, one could
understand this problem. But if an enabling system allows access at
a charge, where are these disadvantages? A basic fact that the CIPR
confuses its readers on is that that while expression is protected
by copyrights, ideas are not. They stay in the public domain and cannot
be protected by any copyright. More copyrights and more copyright
owners mean more ideas, and these ideas are disseminated when copyright
holders feel secure displaying their wares.
repeatedly notes that the US law did not protect foreign copyright
holder. This argument has been floating around for quite some time
now. However, I fail to see how this can be an argument against enforcing
copyrights today. US literature clearly suffered on this account,
as local writing never came of age till copyright enforcement started.
The nation's need for enlightenment remained unfulfilled, and it is
difficult to identify but a few literary achievements of the US in
the nineteenth century makes, in fact, a strong case against the short-sightedness
of lawmakers then. And armed with a strong law for semi conductors,
software and designs, the US achieved far greater wealth and enlightenment
in the second half of the twentieth century.
the report further "In the past, however, the evidence shows
that weak levels of copyright enforcement have had a major impact
on diffusion of knowledge and knowledge-based products in certain
cases, such as computer software, throughout the developing world.
Indeed, it is arguably the case that many poor people in developing
countries have only been able to access certain copyrighted works
through using unauthorised copies available at a fraction of the price
of the genuine original product." Here the report clearly gets
racist. It suggests that poor economies cannot develop without adopting
illegal means. And what little development they have seen, is primarily
because of a thriving trade in pirated books, stolen music, source
codes misappropriated and software illegally copied. This is indeed
the most appalling suggestion the report makes.
What the report implies rather astonishingly is that for Knowledge
to grow, and the knowledge gap to be reduced, a large network of nefarious
dealers working underground is what poor countries require. Apart
from a thorough disregard for the rule of law, this also is plain
misrepresentation of fact. Knowledge gaps and digital divides have
been bridged to a large extent in societies that have followed the
rule of law and respected property rights the most. And polities that
did not have suffered. There is without exception, enough empirical
evidence to back this claim.
my case here.
Amir Ullah Khan, is Director, Asia, International Policy Network is
an Economist and teaches at various management schools in India.
We are grateful to the International Policy Network for permission