Education & the “Enforcement” Agenda

Achieve universal primary education. That’s one of the Millennium Development Goals we’ve got to reach by 2015. Universal education requires, of course, universal access to learning materials. While copyright protection can be an incentive to create and disseminate learning materials like educational textbooks or online resources, it can also lead to a lock-down of such materials, especially by promoting the use of so-called technological protection measures. Currently in many countries, access to learning materials is obtained through widespread, systemic copyright infringement. Rights-holders realize this, so have put IP enforcement squarely on the international policymaking agenda, including most notably in the context of ACTA. In this lesson, we’ll study the impact that enforcing copyright laws, policies and practices can have on access to learning materials. We’ll crystallize our discussion by looking at the African Copyright and Access to Knowledge Project, which is promoting a just society through action-oriented research on this issue in eight different countries throughout Africa.

To set up our discussion, we’ll welcome Professor Michael Geist. He’ll speak about one of the most important matters on the global IP policy agenda right now, which is the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA for short. The agreement could end up impacting on copyright, patent and trade-mark policy, but to keep things manageable, we’ll probably focus on its copyright implications.

Because ACTA is so new (i.e. the thing is still being negotiated), and there’s been no transparency about its substantive contents, this week’s assigned readings are basically a compilation of various relevant sources. First, check out the Government of Canada’s official information portal on ACTA, which won’t take you long to look through. You can actually get a lot more information from the Wikipedia post on the topic. If you’d like, use it as a jumping-off point to the external links at the bottom of that page. Without a doubt, however, Professor Geist is the most prolific and important person thinking and writing about ACTA anywhere in the world right now. So his website is actually the most comprehensive source of relevant materials about ACTA you’re like to find; this link will take you to Geist’s ACTA-tagged work, but also check out the column down the right-hand side of the page. I leave it up to you whether you prefer to watch, listen or read his stuff, but do spend time surfing the links on his site – that’s the key prep for his visit. But I’d also like you to look through some attempts to counter his work, herehere, and here for examples, so you can make up your own minds about what’s really going on and what that means for global IP policy.

To understand how ACTA fits into the broader copyright protection and enforcement picture, I want to add a few more international treaties into the mix of global IP governance that we’ve been unpacking throughout the year. Please surf through (but don’t dwell too long on):

The Berne Convention, incorporated by reference into TRIPs, is not the only international copyright treaty relevant to the issue of access to learning materials. We’ll talk about new obligations layered on top of Berne by a pair of 1996 WIPO internet treaties: the WCT and WPPT. These require signatory states to legally prohibit digital lockpicking, colloquially called circumventing technological protection measures. Please read (at least) Article 11 of the WCT, and think about how it might affect access to learning materials:

  • WIPO Copyright Treaty (20 December 1996), 2186 United Nations Treaty Series 121 (entry into force 3 June 2002).

I’d like to spent Wednesday discussing a major research project I’ve been collaborating on for nearly four years. The necessary background to facilitate our discussion can be found in this brand new piece, which foreshadows the comprehensive book I’m co-editing to be published this summer.

If you’d like more material to provoke your thinking on this topic, take the option to skim the following article: