A2K Movement

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Introduction

The A2K movement coalesced around the fight for a new A2K Treaty, part of the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) development agenda.

See http://www.cptech.org/a2k/

It also holds conferences such as the Yale A2K conference in April 2006 [1]


Interview

From a 2011 interview with Vera Franz:


"What is the A2K movement, and what issues do its members seek to address?

The access to knowledge (A2K) movement first came together in 2004 to respond to a crisis, namely the increasing imbalance between privatized knowledge (that which is controlled by the intellectual property rights holder) and the knowledge commons (that which is "owned" by the public). This crisis had been precipitated by the advancement by some Northern governments of an economic agenda which has consistently pushed for stronger and broader intellectual property (IP) protection.

For example, the duration of copyright protection has dramatically increased, and as a result our public domain is today only half as big as it would be if we returned to the copyright regime of 80 years ago. Also, why do almost 120 countries not yet have a fair use provision for the blind and visually impaired and hence deny this group access to the world’s knowledge?

The A2K movement set out to address these problems, and people were inspired because intellectual property rights are an integral part of our lives—they affect everything from the availability and price of textbooks, scientific journals, software and medicines to innovation in different fields of technology, as well as free communication on the Internet. Ultimately, intellectual property rights shape the economic, social and political development of every open society and it’s too important to leave the decisions about the form of our IP rules to a few vested interests.


What are some of the most notable accomplishments of the A2K movement so far?

The biggest accomplishment is that it managed to turn a seemingly technocratic issue—copyright and patents—into a political one that people from all walks of life started to care deeply about. Also, the movement has shifted the terms of the debate: away from "more IP is better" to "sometimes less is more." The impact of the movement can be best understood by taking a closer look at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), currently the main multilateral policy maker in this space.

Ten years ago, WIPO was a closed agency largely controlled by a lobby advocating for ever more IP protection. Today, both rhetoric and norm-setting have changed. Thanks to relentless advocacy by civil society, we have a Development Agenda that is seeking to address the concerns of developing countries. And governments are negotiating a Treaty for the Visually Impaired that would enhance access to copyrighted materials for the visually impaired around the world. What major obstacles does the movement face at this moment?

The biggest challenge is the tactic of "forum shifting," where governments, pushed by the IP industry, are relocating negotiations of international law from open into what are often secret forums. A case in point is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), where negotiators and participating lobbyists had to sign nondisclosure agreements. This is hardly a stellar example of transparent and democratic policy making, and it makes it very difficult for the movement to have an impact and make its voice heard.

Another challenge is the ever more aggressive enforcement agenda. Proposals here include pervasive surveillance of everybody’s internet traffic coupled with the threat of disconnection of alleged copyright infringers from the internet—such measures violate basic standards of due process, free expression and privacy. In fact, the A2K struggle has become a struggle for the protection of our human rights online. These aggressive enforcement proposals are not the right way to address infringement. As they are often ineffective, we need to instead think more creatively about business models that combine profit with openness, but also finally arrange for a global licensing regime that will allow people to access works legally and hence ensure compensation for creators.


Given the movement's diversity and its wide variety of approaches, are there any tensions within the movement?

I guess it’s easier to agree on proposals that need to be defeated than agree on solutions to proactively advocate for. That is certainly one challenge that everybody in this movement recognizes, but also works to overcome.

And in the early days, the movement was, at least by some, perceived as a Northern movement. Over the course of the past years however a growing number of Southern participants have turned A2K into something that made sense for them.

Also, there are important forces in the A2K movement that question the centrality of law as such. Reality is shaped by other forces than the law, they point out. They take social practice as the starting and end point and argue that, in times of great technological progress, it might well be that we will improve the condition of humanity more if guided by social practice rather than by the existing law.

For example, if the world is looked at through the lens of WIPO, “piracy” is classified as an “illegal activity” that needs to be extinguished at all cost. But looking at matters through the lens of human development and economic progress, for example in developing countries, one might not always come to the same conclusion. Further, some important businesses would never have developed by always adhering to the narrowest interpretation of the current legal framework." (http://blog.soros.org/2011/02/the-rise-of-the-access-to-knowledge-movement-an-interview-with-vera-franz/)