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Government body says developing countries need open source
Developing countries should look at open-source software and should avoid
legislation designed to stop anti-copying measures being circumvented, a
government-backed group of influential experts will warn on Monday.
In its report, called Integrating Intellectual Property Rights and
Development Policy, the Commission on Intellectual Property Rights will
encourage developing countries to take a stand against unfair copyright
measures affecting online media, and against software pricing that puts
products beyond the reach of many citizens.
The commission, an independent body set up by the UK government in 2001,
includes on its board Professor John Barton of Stanford Law School and
Professor John Enderby, vice president of the Royal Society. Other
members include Daniel Alexander, a barrister specialising in
intellectual property law, Professor Carlos Correa of the University of
Buenos Aires in Argentina, and Dr Ramesh Mashelkar, director general of
the Indian Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and secretary to
the Indian government's Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
The report covers many areas of intellectual property, but the
recommendations on copyright, software and the Internet will add fuel to
debates over the use of open source in government and over copyright
"Developing countries and their donor partners should carefully evaluate
the costs and benefits of using low-cost and/or open-source software
products," the report recommends. Publishers of software, as well as of
conventional and online materials, have a duty to review their pricing
policies to help reduce unauthorised copying and to ease access to their
products in developing countries, the commission believes. "The cost of
software is a major problem in developing countries and it is the
principal reason for illicit copying," it notes.
Part of the problem with proprietary software, says the commission, is
that publishers often make no allowance for markets in developing
countries where it notes many people live on less than $2 (£1.30) a day.
But the report goes further than other recent studies on the use of
open-source software in government, and recommends that to help adapt
software to meet local needs, developing countries should ensure that
their copyright laws allow reverse engineering of software programs
"while complying with relevant international treaties they have signed."
The commission cautions developing countries against some forms of
international treaty; in particular the WIPO copyright treaty, which many
countries are pressured into signing in return for monetary aid from
organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The WIPO Copyright Treaty, while being less restrictive than laws such as
the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the EU's Copyright Directive,
which is due to be enforced in the national laws of member states next
year, still "contains provisions of concern in developing countries,"
says the commission.
In the US, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act has received a great deal
of criticism for making it illegal to circumvent technological
protection, even when the purpose of circumvention does no violate
Developing countries are advised against passing similar laws, and the
commission goes so far as to advise them to declare void shrink-wrap
software licences in some cases.
"Internet users in developing countries should have fair use rights on
available information, including creating and distributing printed
electronic copies in reasonable numbers for educational and research
purposes and making reasonable excerpts in commentary and criticism,"
says the commission. "If suppliers of digital information or software
attempt to restrict fair use rights, either through contract provisions
or by technological methods of protection, the contract provisions may be
treated as void."
In particular, says the commission, developing countries should allow
their citizens to circumvent copyright protection mechanisms and should
not follow the example of the US and the EU by enacting laws that ban
Even weak levels of copyright enforcement have had a major impact on
diffusion of knowledge and knowledge products throughout the developing
world. "Stronger protection and enforcement of copyright rules may well
reduce access to knowledge required by developing to support education
and research, and access to copyrighted products such as software," notes
the commission. "This would have damaging consequences for developing
their human resources and technological capacity, and for poor people."
The report is to be formally launched on Monday at an event in Geneva:
speakers will Clare Short MP, the UK secretary of state for International
Development; Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi, director general of the World
Trade Organisation; and Dr Kamil Idris, director general of the World
Intellectual Property Organisation.
The full report is available at the Commission's Web site here.
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