I'm in Geneva at a meeting on the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), in a negotiation on something called the WIPO "Development Agenda." As Thiru Balasubramaniam has written in this blog entry, the U.S. government, as well as other members of a rich country negotiating bloc called "Group B," have opposed the use of the term "access to knowledge," in the context of topics that should be discussed by the UN agency responsible for setting global norms on intellectual property policy. Other Group B countries also have taken this position.
Technically, we are discussing the draft text on "issues related to norm-setting, flexibilities, public policy and the public domain," where the controversial paragraph 3 now has the following brackets:
3. To discuss possible new initiatives and strengthen existing mechanisms within WIPO to facilitate [access to knowledge] and technology for developing countries and LDCs and to foster creativity and innovation within WIPO's mandate.
Canada said it "didn't understand" what "access to knowledge" meant. The UK indicated that there was a sentiment by many countries that while WIPO could discuss measures that would make access to knowledge hard, such as tough new digital copyright laws, it shouldn't discuss proposals, like a treaty to provide minimum access to works by libraries, teachers and the blind, which would expand access.
Here "access to knowledge" is referred to by many simply as A2K, a term that is apparently terrorizing the many lobbyists for publishers. I'm hoping the U.S. will come around, and agree that yes, the U.N. can actually "discuss possible new initiatives" to facilitate "access to knowledge." It is rather amazing that this is even controversial.