A Closer Look at the 2013 GA: The Case of PPI

WIPO delegates at the WIPO General Assembly. (Photo: WIPO)

With all of the conflicts and concerns which seemed emblematic of this year’s General Assembly, one thing is of particular note: this year’s refusal of admittance of the Pirate Party International (PPI) to Observer Status for the organization. PPI is an international umbrella organization founded in 2010, and represents 43 parties around the world, with a number of currently elected officials. They first applied for Observer Status to the organization in 2012, but their initial application was deferred to the following year after a number of concerns were raised by Member States from developed countries. This year, after the explicit insistence of PPI representatives, their application was brought in for renewed discussion, although positions seemed to have changed very little over the past year. For all that the organization appears to initially fit all technical requirements for admittance to observer membership, concerns and objections were again expressed, particularly by the US, Poland and Belgium. Some initial concerns which were raised last year involved a questioning of the place of political parties within WIPO. Concerns were voiced that “the Pirate Parties would take “political action” back home when they disagreed with positions taken by the official delegates at the WIPO meetings.” This year the US, for example, partially motivated their objections by arguing that the Pirate Parties would not be able to contribute new points of view to the debates ongoing at WIPO. This was a strange objection to level against an organization that has made IP a fundamental part of their platform. Poland, speaking on behalf of the Central European and Baltic States(CEBS) even went so far as to state that the PPI was a political party whose goals are in contradiction with those of WIPO, which are, to this group’ mind, to promote IP rights around the world. At WIPO, all decisions of admittance of organizations to observer status must be unanimous, therefore, the objection of a single Member State would be enough to deny an application. As an observer to the organization, a group gains the ability to attend committee and working group meetings if “their subject matter seems to be of direct interest to that NGO”. They gain the ability to speak during meetings or assemblies, but only Member States retain the right to vote. This rejection raises some interesting questions about the political nature of WIPO as an organization. The underlying tone of the initial postponement and the ultimate rejection of the organization’s application has been such that the rejection seems to speak to certain political biases within Member States, rather than being because PPI does not fit the description of an eligible NGO. It has the feeling of one wanting to remain in control of the conversation, by simply refusing the admittance of certain opinions or narratives into the conversation altogether. Furthermore, it brings into question the procedures of WIPO which might allow the potential  bias of a few Member States to not only hold up discussions and decisions within WIPO matters, but to shut out certain voices from the conversation entirely. This seems somewhat contra to WIPO and more generally the UN’s philosophy of discussion, deliberation and consensus. Certainly the decision points to a certain contradiction which lies at the heart of the organization. Member States often tout the virtues and importance of a fair and balanced approach to copyright, but this move seems to deliberately push to leave certain stakeholders and segments of the population arguably unrepresented in WIPO conversations, potentially leaving that particular balance off centre. The PPI defended its application to the organization by stating this very fact, saying that it found its opinions and interests poorly represented in current debates. In its application to WIPO, PPI described itself, its goals, and interests in IP as follows:

Objectives: PPI exists to establish, support, promote, and maintain communication and co-operation between pirate parties around the world. PPI is not a political or authoritative entity. To achieve its goals, PPI provides for and extends communications between members; assists in the foundation of new pirate parties, organizes and coordinates global campaigns and events. PPI mediates or arbitrates disputes between members as requested; shares information and coordinates research on core pirate topics. PPI aims to act according to its members’ major goals and interests; raise awareness and widen the spread of the pirate movement, unify the pirate movement, and strengthen its bonds internally and externally. Intellectual property issues of particular interest to PPI include copying monopoly and related issues, users’ freedoms on the internet, developing laws and standards, economics of copying and new business methods, and enforcement of copying monopoly.

A representative for the PPI says that he is disappointed by the decision, but will not give up, and the PPI will apply again for admittance in the future. In the meantime members of the PPI will continue to participate indirectly as best they can through the help of other NGOs.