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WIPO Conference Roundup
by Sofia Gkiousou
2007-11-02 10:38:29
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World Intellectual Property Organisation – International Conference on IP and the Creative Industries

Monday & Tuesday 29th & 30th of October 2007

If I had to characterize the conference with two words I’m afraid they would be “missed opportunity”.

For all the interesting things I heard and the extremely interesting people I met the conference was not only pitched to government policy makers but to ones that had no idea of the creative industries at all. As a result the presentations stayed at a mostly descriptive level. The feeling I got was not of an exploratory conference but of one that tried to convince government delegates of the following:

1) Cultural industries are actual industries and are in existence

2) Doing something about them can significantly contribute to your country’s GDP and employment figures.

This of course does not mean that the conference was not useful for the majority of delegates but I found it a bit simplistic – not to mention that it did not really present a well-rounded image of what is going on. And here is where the real problem lies for me: Most speeches exemplified that diversity in their national cultures promoted a meshing of ideas which ultimately created a new cultural product.

The best example coming from Mr. Orville ‘Shaggy’ Burrell: Jamaica, he said, is the perfect place to get the creative juices flowing. Everywhere you look there is a festival or a street party or people playing music. Hence you get more and more ideas AND it is easier to showcase your talent. An interesting (and I suspect very true) argument. So far so good but what happens when you try to make the leap from this to an IP and copyright system? Is the system formulated in such a way as to ensure that this meshing still goes on AND that artists’ rights are ensured. I think not.

A good discussion was on measuring creative activity. For I have been hearing that ‘it’s too difficult’ or that ‘it can’t be done’. Well it seems that Mr. Desmond Hui, Director, Centre for Cultural Policy Research, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong managed to do it with his team. This of course means a lot of breaking down – some commentators will probably think that it makes everything too uncertain since the whole is not necessarily a sum of is parts. I remain skeptical but I am waiting to read his full report before I can decide.

True to form of all these conferences the most interesting discussions were held during the coffee breaks, lunch and dinners. I heard a fascinating debate between Professors Xavier Greffe, Stuart Cunningham and Ruth Towse on artists, copyrights and the history of the law surrounding rights. One very interesting point - specifically about books for example was that the law protects the publisher more than the writer.

A very interesting ‘combat’ of sorts was also going on between those that thought of DRM as a curse and those that thought of it as a necessary curse. Yet a glimpse of how companies think about DRMs was offered by Mr. Jussim of Sony (by far the most lively and interesting person on the podium, even if his views will probably cause havoc with Creative Commons supporters) who said that they are there to operate similar to locks in a house. They will not stop the burglars but they will slow them down.

Discussing this with a variety of people though there seems to be some sort of agreement that DRM simply made the problem of piracy worst. Consumers got so annoyed that they could not listen to a music CD on their computer and so they turned to illegal downloads. Personally I think that this is an oversimplification of the situation but anyway.

Contrary to what I was expecting the connection between IP and creativity has not been made satisfactorily – or if I’m being a bit harsh – but fair – not at all.

Naturally speakers noted that an IP systems is not panacea for creativity and that other measures are also necessary. Yet I have this suspicion that in most countries the policy makers tend to deal with an IP system and legislation and not much else. When creativity indexes do now show good enough results they ask why. So I’m thinking of all those that fight against or for European and national legislation and I think that we are failing in one fundamental task: we are not simplifying things enough and we are not pulling the right levers.

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