Gurry still believes WIPO can agree one international
treaty every year
WIPO Director General Francis Gurry is reinvigorating IP
harmonisation one small step at a time.
The Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances can best be
described as a tying-up of loose ends that remained after the
two WIPO copyright treaties of 1996. WIPO Director General
explained at the time: "The Beijing Treaty will enable
performers to interact with greater confidence with the digital
environment. It will remedy a widely perceived injustice of the
unequal treatment of audiovisual performances, compared to
musical performances, at the multilateral level."
That may not sound much. But the fact that a treaty could be
signed at all represents great progress since the early years
of this century, when international negotiations were frozen,
WIPO was embroiled in controversy and governments were looking
to bilateral and multilateral deals rather than international
harmonisation. Post-TRIPs, there was an apparently unbridgeable
divide between the developed (north) and developing (south)
world, which encompassed sensitive topics such as access to
medicines, traditional knowledge and geographical indications.
Meanwhile, WIPO's then director general, Kamil Idris, was
criticised over his financial arrangements and had to
retire early in 2007.
elected by the narrowest of margins in 2008, realised that
his biggest task would be to restore credibility by building
Interviewed by Managing IP soon after being appointed, he
said his number one priority would be "reengaging or engaging
WIPO in the many challenges that exist as a result of the
changing environment for IP in the world".
"The fact that a
treaty could be signed at all represents great
He also realised that the IP world today is very different
from that of a generation ago, when debates were confined to
academics, lawyers and judges. WIPO, like other international
institutions, is now a playground for commercial lobbyists,
non-governmental organisations and charities. These have been
prominent in recent debates, covering topics such as access to
copyrighted materials for visually impaired persons.
The Organization is increasingly aware of the world beyond
the IP cognoscenti. It aims to develop broader understanding
with more sophisticated economic and social analysis: one of
Gurry's first decisions was to appoint a chief economist. And,
on another level, it promotes popular awareness through events
such as the annual World IP Day. Notably, the build up to
Beijing featured contributions from actors such as Javier
Bardem and Meryl Streep.
An Australian, Gurry
joined WIPO back in 1985 having previously practised law and
written on IP and international relations. He held various
positions at the Organization before getting the top job,
including being responsible for the PCT and setting up the
Arbitration and Mediation Center and the UDRP system,
which has now handled some 25,000 domain name disputes. So he
brought to the role of director general both a real
understanding of what could be achieved, and a good sense of
the challenges that would have to be overcome.
Those challenges will only increase, as the internet and
social media enable more and more stakeholders to contribute to
debates about IP rights. Those debates are not always pretty or
fruitful from the point of view of IP owners (see SOPA
ACTA) but they can no longer be avoided. Despite the
Gurry remains optimistic, arguing: "The media attention is
an expression of society getting it and a growing consciousness
of the value of intangibles, and the fact that rights over
knowledge are of fundamental importance for society. This is
very positive. The additional interest makes possible the
engagement of member states."
For that reason, he believes that WIPO can build on the
Beijing success, and even goes so far as to predict that member
states can agree more treaties - at the rate of one a year.
Areas where work is already underway include design procedures,
broadcasting, visually impaired persons and even the area that
was once seen as intractable - traditional knowledge.
Gurry narrowly wins WIPO vote (June 2008)
The most important man in IP (October 2008)
WIPO General Assemblies at a glance (September 2011)
Interview: a new era for WIPO (April 2012)
WIPO's copyright deal (June 2012)
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