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<title>FSF Europe - WSIS - Debriefing Geneva Phase / Part I, December 10-12, 2003</title>
<h2>Debriefing on</h2>
<div align="right">
World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)<br />
Geneva Phase / Part I, Geneva, December 10-12
<b>by <a href="/about/people/greve/">Georg C. F. Greve</a> &lt;;</b><br />
European Caucus of Civil Society@WSIS, Chair<br />
Patents, Copyrights, Trademarks (PCT) working group of Civil Society@WSIS, co-coordinator<br />
Delegate of German Civil Society@WSIS coordination circle in German governmental delegation<br/>
FSF Europe, president
<p>The <a href="">United Nations</a> (UN) <a
href="">World Summit on the Information Society</a>
(WSIS) is the first such a global summit held in two parts. The first
part was held in Geneva, Switzerland from <b>December 10th-12th
2003</b> and adopted two documents, the <b>Declaration of
Principles</b> and the <b>Plan of Action</b>. The second phase will
take place in Tunis hosted by the Government of Tunisia, from <b>16th
to 18th November 2005</b>. So after the first phase has finished its
work, an assessment of experiences and in particular the adopted
documents seems warranted.</p>
<h3>Procedural Overview</h3>
<p>The structures of global governance are in a process of
transformation. Governance, originally the function of governments
alone, is increasingly taking place in a network in which governments
are one party. The other two stakeholders usually identified in this
regard are Civil Society and economy.</p>
<p>How and in which form that network will take shape is not clear
today. Ideas range from an equal participation of all sides
("tripartite") over other forms of networking with different levels of
influence ("multi-stakeholder") to a pure governmental network.</p>
<p>Among the novelties that the WSIS claims for itself is a uniquely
inclusive multi-stakeholder, even tripartite approach. After Geneva,
we have to concede that positive steps have been taken in this
direction, but the current situation does not warrant the label of
<p>As described in more detail in other places, Civil Society was in-
or excluded from working groups on a seemingly random basis throughout
the whole preparatory process. But the summit itself in Geneva
climaxed in a way that will make it easy for Tunisia to shine as a
symbol of Civil Society involvement and freedom of speech.</p>
<p>While logistics provided during the preparatory process were
adequate, even good, this was not true for the summit itself. Some
little shacks had been assembled as temporary housing for Civil
Society within the exhibition, but no rooms were reserved for civil
society use, most notably the civil society plenary assembly. Lack of
logistics also included printers, photocopiers and -- not without
irony given the topic of the summit -- adequate network access.</p>
<p>This however qualified as uniquely favorable treatment in
comparison with those Civil Society participants who were trying to
organise alternative events outside the Palexo premises and were
removed by Geneva riot police from the rooms they had rented under
adaptable legal excuses. A peaceful public protest on the last day was
also stopped by the police before it began.</p>
<p>Unnoticed by most governments remained the fact that Civil Society
was not even entitled to determine who would speak in its stead at the
summit ceremonies.</p>
<p>Although the self-organising mechanisms of Civil Society provided a
list of speakers that was balanced in terms of questions such as
geography, gender, topic and prior involvement, that list was largely
ignored by the WSIS secretariat.</p>
<p>So when Civil Society was informed Dec 1st, 2003 by the secretariat
who was to speak in its name during the summit, it had to realise that
most of the names on that list were unbeknownst to them and even
included one mayor of a city, who was apparently to speak in the name
of Civil Society.</p>
<p>Only for questions of timing and for not wanting to undermine the
message of Civil Society while playing into the hands of such
divisionary tactics, did Civil Society not react to this
officially. It is unlikely Civil Society would remain silent about
repetition of such a demonstration of disrespect for its active
members and self-organised structures.</p>
<p>So the way towards Tunisia and the summit in Tunis will show
whether we come closer to tripartism by allowing Civil Society to
choose who is speaking in its name or -- alternatively -- whether
Civil Society will get to decide upon two thirds of the governmental
<h3>European perspectives</h3>
<p>Even though the European Union and its member states share some
positions of Civil Society more than others, positions are different
on some critical issues. Still, they were always among the first to
protest against exclusion of Civil Society in the working groups and
asking for more participation and involvement.</p>
<p>During the PrepComs III and IIIa, coordination meetings between the
European Caucus of Civil Society and the European Union took place,
exploring ways of implementing active participation of Civil Society
not only in theory, but in reality.</p>
<p>By means of strengthening this process of building and exporing
cooperation and participation, the European Union and its member
states are about to cover new ground in the multi-stakeholder
approach, building up experience that may also help on a larger level
or within other processes.</p>
<p>Also, some countries -- for instance Germany and Switzerland --
have taken initiative on an individual level by including Civil
Society representatives in their governmental delegations to the
preparatory process and the summit itself.</p>
<p>Civil Society will certainly seek to build upon these positive
experiences in the future, a message also personally delivered to the
Irish delegation to the summit in Geneva, since Ireland will take over
EU presidency in January 2004.</p>
<h3>PCT perspectives</h3>
<p>The multitude of interesting Civil Society side events was another
positive part of the summit. Personally, I enjoyed very much the
opportunity to <a
href="">speak at the APC
event</a> on Free Software for women in Africa. Just afterwards, also
on wednesday, Dec 10th, the Patents, Copyrights, Trademarks (PCT)
working group of Civil Society held its <a
href="/activities/wsis/event-03-12-10.html">"Free Software, Free
Society" event</a>.</p>
<p>After Prof. Lawrence Lessig, who shared his visions for a Free
Society, the speakers shed light on their experience on building Free
Societies with the help of Free Software in South America and
Africa. This experience was complimented by the experience of the
Swiss NGO</p>
<p>Surprising special guests were Sergio Amadeu Da Silveira and
Rogerio Santanna of the Brazilian government, who told the audience
about their experience building the Free Software policy for
Brazil. And as the final speaker, just after his appearence at the
governmental high-level round table, Richard Stallman, founding father
of the GNU Project, vividly expressed the freedoms of Free
<h3>Assessment of the documents</h3>
<p>Leaving aside all problems, frustrations and obstacles that Civil
Society faced, some positive influence on the governmental documents
<em>Declaration of Principles</em> and <em>Plan of Action</em> adopted
during the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) seems
evident. This is my first personal assessment for the areas that I
have been following most closely.</p>
<p><b>Access to public domain of global knowledge</b><br /></p>
<p>It is self-awareness, the possibility to reflect and our ability to
develop and communicate abstract concepts that make humankind
different from any other species on our planet. As a result of that
process, including concepts, thoughts and experiences from all people
alive and dead, we create the public domain of global knowledge. From
this reservoir we learn, improve ourselves and build new
<p>This makes the question of access to the reservoir that is the
public domain of global knowledge central to humankind in general, but
information societies in particular.</p>
<p>Central paragraphs dealing with access to the public domain of
global knowledge adopted on Dec 12th, 2003 are <ul> <b>Declaration of
Principles</b> 24: <em>"The ability for all to access and contribute
information, ideas and knowledge is essential in an inclusive
Information Society."</em> </ul> <ul> <b>Declaration of Principles</b>
25: <em>"The sharing and strengthening of global knowledge for
development can be enhanced by removing barriers to equitable access
to information for economic, social, political, health, cultural,
educational, and scientific activities and by facilitating access to
public domain information, including by universal design and the use
of assistive technologies."</em> </ul> <ul> <b>Declaration of
Principles</b> 26: <em>"A rich public domain is an essential element
for the growth of the Information Society, creating multiple benefits
such as an educated public, new jobs, innovation, business
opportunities, and the advancement of sciences. Information in the
public domain should be easily accessible to support the Information
Society, and protected from misappropriation. Public institutions
such as libraries and archives, museums, cultural collections and
other community-based access points should be strengthened so as to
promote the preservation of documentary records and free and equitable
access to information."</em> </ul></p>
<p>The weakness of these paragraphs is their emphasis on the economic
and development related aspects, which somewhat neglect the social and
political issues. Also they put most of their attention on the past,
not the future extension of human knowledge. But despite these
weaknesses, the thrust is good. Most particular, they come before the
paragraph on Patents, Copyrights, Trademarks (PCTs) in the
declaration, emphasising early on the significance of the public
domain of global knowledge and of access to it.</p>
<p><b>Patents, Copyrights, Trademarks (PCT)</b><br />
<b>(a.k.a. Limited Intellectual Monopolies (LIM))</b><br /></p>
<p>Patents, Copyright and Trademarks (PCTs) centrally regulate access
to the public domain of global knowledge, the reservoir of all human
knowledge, from which new knowledge is in turn created. As an effect
of the current system, some Northern companies have become immensely
rich while the vast majority of humankind is excluded from access to
that knowledge.</p>
<p>The lines of conflict in this area ran between the Southern and
Northern countries, most particular United States, European Union and
Japan. While Northern countries wish to see international treaties and
organisations -- most notably the "World Intellectual Property
Organization" (WIPO) -- accepted as they stand, Southern countries
question the balance of the current system and wish to see the system
<p>The <a href="">PCT working group</a> of
Civil Society, which is working on these issues, has been giving
support to the Southern countries in this area and supported them
through statements (in <a
href="activities/wsis/ps-20030923.html">plenary</a> and beyond),
personal discussions and drafts for compromise text.</p>
<p>The paragraphs dealing with the issue as they have been adopted on
December 12th are:
<ul> <b>Declaration of Principles</b> 42: <em>"Intellectual Property
protection is important to encourage innovation and creativity in the
Information Society; similarly, the wide dissemination, diffusion, and
sharing of knowledge is important to encourage innovation and
creativity. Facilitating meaningful participation by all in
intellectual property issues and knowledge sharing through full
awareness and capacity building is a fundamental part of an inclusive
Information Society."</em> </ul>
<ul> <b>Plan of Action</b> C3, 10, d): <em>"Governments, and other
stakeholders, should establish sustainable multi- purpose community
public access points, providing affordable or free-of- charge access
for their citizens to the various communication resources, notably the
Internet. These access points should, to the extent possible, have
sufficient capacity to provide assistance to users, in libraries,
educational institutions, public administrations, post offices or
other public places, with special emphasis on rural and underserved
areas, while respecting intellectual property rights (IPRs) and
encouraging the use of information and sharing of
<p>While it can and should be criticised that the paragraphs are using
the ideologically charged and misleading terminology of "intellectual
property" and contain a good load of fuzzyness, it should be realised
that they are a step forward, albeit a small one.</p>
<p>As they stand, they still neglect that all monopolisation of
knowledge draws its sole justification from increasing the
dissemination, diffusion and sharing of knowledge, as adequately
stated in Article 1 of the United States constitution: "<em>To promote
the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times
to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective
writings and discoveries;</em>"</p>
<p>But unlike other statements (and what the Northern countries were
also trying to achieve in the scope of WSIS), it does not put forward
the notion that ultimate monopolisation of knowledge should be the
goal of humankind. Instead, it gives monopolisation, dissemination,
diffusion and sharing of knowledge equal weight.</p>
<p>Also, it does not mention the international treaties in the area,
therefore not reinforcing them. In particular, it does not mention
WIPO, in essence leaving room for the interpretation that it is not
the Information Society that should serve WIPO, but rather WIPO which
should serve the Information Society.</p>
<p>This is of critical importance. Earlier in 2003, WIPO cancelled a
conference on knowledge sharing because of heavy opposition by the
United States. When asked why the United States had opposed the WIPO
meeting, Lois Boland, director of international relations for the
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, told the Washington Post,
"<em>Open-source software runs counter to the mission of WIPO, which
is to promote intellectual property rights.</em>" She added: "<em>To
hold a meeting, which has as its purpose to disclaim or waive such
rights, seems to us to be contrary to the goals of WIPO.</em>"</p>
<p>In short: WIPO has in the past years understood its mission as
seeking ultimate monopolisation of knowledge. Every aspect of society
had to serve that goal. Thanks to WSIS, there is now room to
reevaluate the role of WIPO into one of readjustment instead of
single-minded expansion.</p>
<p>It is not enough to stop here, but a door has been opened that
remained closed before.</p>
<p><b>Free Software</b><br /></p>
<p>Software shapes the digital age and access to it determines who may
participate in a digital world. That is why <a
href="/activities/wsis/fs.html">Free Software</a> with its freedoms of
use for any purpose, studying, modification and redistribution is an
essential building block for an empowering, sustainable and inclusive
information society.</p>
<p>The paragraphs adopted for this on December 12th were
<ul> <b>Declaration of Principles</b> 27: <em>"Access to information
and knowledge can be promoted by increasing awareness among all
stakeholders of the possibilities offered by different software
models, including proprietary, open-source and free software, in order
to increase competition, access by users, diversity of choice, and to
enable all users to develop solutions which best meet their
requirements. Affordable access to software should be considered as
an important component of a truly inclusive Information
Society."</em></ul> <ul> <b>Plan of Action</b> C3, 10, e):
<em>"Encourage research and promote awareness among all stakeholders
of the possibilities offered by different software models, and the
means of their creation, including proprietary, open-source and free
software, in order to increase competition, freedom of choice and
affordability, and to enable all stakeholders to evaluate which
solution best meets their requirements."</em></ul></p>
<p>One might have hoped that governments were already more advanced in
their understanding of the digital society, but these paragraphs are
going further than it may seem at first glance; especially given their
development over time.</p>
<p>During the work on the documents, especially the United States
tried to declassify Free Software by means of referring to it as the
"open source software development model," pretending it was a foremost
technical issue, which could later disappear from the documents
entirely, as there is no need to talk about all the technical models
in a political document. This was stopped around the <a
href="/activities/wsis/debriefing-paris.html">Intersessional Meeting in
Paris</a>, when Civil Society managed to get Free Software into the
official documents.</p>
<p>Although the official documents pose the risk of further spreading
the notion of "open source" as "any software with (partially) visible
source code," they do avoid the most severe misunderstanding by not
confusing proprietary (non-Free) and commercial software, as both Free
and proprietary software can be both commercial or non-commercial.</p>
<p>More importantly, instead of talking about software development
models, the documents speak of "software models." For the first time,
a formal United Nations level takes steps to acknowledge that the
choice between proprietary and Free Software is not a mainly technical
issue, but a political, economical and social choice of paradigm.</p>
<p>One of the most fundamental tasks of the Free Software Foundation
has always been to build awareness, because ubiquitous understanding
of the different software paradigms and their effects is the most
effective way of establishing Free Software; someone who has
understood the full consequences of that choice will not freely choose
proprietary software.</p>
<p>So while encouraging research and promoting awareness may not seem
like much, it is all that is needed for Free Software to be understood
and prevail as the most favorable paradigm. </p>
<p>In essence: on Dec 12th, 2003, all governments represented in the
United Nations have committed to encourage research and promotion of
awareness for the different paradigms of software and their effects,
something we can support entirely, even if we hoped that the
governments had understood these issues better already.</p>
<p><b>Open Standards</b><br /></p>
<p>Open standards are the equivalent of well documented and accessible
languages in a digital world, allowing communication and
<p>Unfortunately, the paragraphs adopted for standardisation adopted
on Dec 12th were insufficient: <ul> <b>Declaration of Principles</b>
44: <em>"Standardization is one of the essential building blocks of
the Information Society. There should be particular emphasis on the
development and adoption of international standards. The development
and use of open, interoperable, non-discriminatory and demand-driven
standards that take into account needs of users and consumers is a
basic element for the development and greater diffusion of ICTs and
more affordable access to them, particularly in developing
countries. International standards aim to create an environment where
consumers can access services worldwide regardless of underlying
technology."</em></ul> <ul> <b>Plan of Action</b> C6, 13,
p):<em>"Governments, in cooperation with other stakeholders, should
promote the development and use of open, interoperable,
non-discriminatory and demand- driven standards."</em></ul></p>
<p>While "open" and "interoperable" are important adjectives and
"demand-driven" is uncritical, it is not enough to ensure open
standards. Especially "non-discriminatory" has acquired sad notoriety
in the standardisation discussions by at times being used in ways to
make Free Software implementations impossible.</p>
<p>As the PCT working group has repeatedly pointed out, no standard
will ever qualify as a truly open standard unless it is <em>freely
implementable</em> and <em>publicly documented</em>.</p>
<p>In essence, the paragraphs fall short of what they seek to
<p><b>Open Access</b><br /></p>
<p>Science is the source of the technological development that
empowers the Information Society, including the World Wide Web. In the
best tradition of science, scientific authors donate their work to
humankind and access to that information is crucial.</p>
<p>The paragraphs mention this explicitly in<ul>
<b>Declaration of Principles</b> 28: <em>"We strive to promote
universal access with equal opportunities for all to scientific
knowledge and the creation and dissemination of scientific and
technical information, including open access initiatives for
scientific publishing."</em></ul> <ul> <b>Plan of Action</b> C3, 10,
i):<em>"Encourage initiatives to facilitate access, including free and
affordable access to open access journals and books, and open archives
for scientific information."</em></ul></p>
<p>While "encourage initatives" is not very binding, these paragraphs
do mention in particular the significance of Open Access to scientific
information, a part that had disappeared for a while in all documents
throughout the process.</p>
<p>Since Francis Muguet, co-coordinator of the PCT working group and
coordinator of Scientific Information (SI) working group, was most
active in this part, I'm going to leave the full assessment of this up
to him.</p>
<p>One can say that the governmental documents fall short of the <a
href="/activities/wsis/cs-benchmarks.html">essential benchmarks</a> of
Civil Society in all considered aspects. But one can also say that
they have in most cases made progress and moved in the right
<p>A fair evaluation of both the process and the adopted documents
might be that they have moved into the right direction, but that we
cannot be satisfied yet and will have to keep working on all
aspects. Given that Civil Society has networked itself better than
ever before throughout the summit, my personal outlook is
<p>So my conclusion would be that we haven't arrived and will probably
not do so in Tunis, but we've made progress and now are finding
ourselves in a solid starting position for the years to come.</p>
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