Elon University

An interview transcript from the first Internet Governance Forum, Athens, Greece Oct/Nov 2006: Mary Wong

IGF 2006 LogoThis is a transcript from a series of video interviews designed to assess major issues tied to the diffusion of the internet. It is the record of one of many interviews conducted in 2006 with international internet stakeholders from 18 different nations at the world’s first Internet Governance Forum in Athens, Greece. The Athens IGF was the first of five annual global events administrated by the UN to focus on discussion of the overarching issues tied to the future of information and communications technologies. More than 1,200 participants shared information, experiences and best practices.

Mary Wong – Professor of Law, Franklin Pierce Law Center; intellectual property and information technology policy specialist; advocate and solicitor qualified for the Supreme Court of Singapore; member of Singapore’s e-Commerce Consultative Committee. Based in Concord, New Hampshire, USA. 

The Transcript:

Q: Who are you representing at IGF?

A: I represent the Franklin-Pierce Law Center in the U.S. and the Intellectual Property Academy of Singapore, Singapore. So I am here wearing two hats.

Q: Why did they send you to IGF?

A: Personally, I was actually very enthusiastic about the whole concept of being able to discuss Internet governance in this kind of forum given that it is the first inaugural event. But specifically, where my organizations respectively are concerned, we were excited to see copyright, and the bigger issue of intellectual property rights, on the agenda for some of the discussions and in the context of some of the various pillars as was discussed [at WSIS] in Tunis. So we wanted to be part of that conversation and we wanted to see if there was any work that we could do that we could contribute. Given that, for example, my law school is in the United States and the Intellectual Property Academy is in Singapore, we thought that would be a nice example of multi-stakeholder, multi-geographical collaboration. So now that we’re here and we’ve got a dynamic coalition that has just been formed to work on balancing copyright and the Internet, we think that this has all been really great and great progress for the months of work that’s gone into this.

Q: How do you govern copyright on the Internet?

A: I think, you know, as we’ve seen through this entire process starting in Geneva and Tunis and now at the forum here in Athens, the concept of Internet governance is very broad, it is possible to define it but it is very broad, and there are various fundamental principles that are important to IGF and some of those principles include openness, transparency, inclusiveness, for example. Where copyright is concerned, first of all it is something that affects everyone globally in the sense that you either produce works or you use works or you do both. There are copyright laws globally, many of which are in conformity with certain uniform international standards, and certainly the problems of reproduction and digital distribution are not national problems and so in this sense, the problems that are not national also have certain fundamental common characteristics.

For example, if you award an exclusive right to a particular individual, by its very nature the right means that you could exclude somebody else from using that particular work and that, therefore, could lead to a lack of openness, a lack of access by other people unless you, as the copyright holder, give your permission, your authorization for those other people to use the work. And one thing that has happened with the Internet is that the policy balance that was very carefully calibrated over the many years of copyrights history needs to be readdressed because a lot of the technologies, a lot of the copying capability, a lot of the creative capability – like remixing – were not possible before the Internet and related technology. So what we need to do is to look at how that policy balances between guaranteeing that content creators have their rights and their compensation and ensuring that there is public access to information, access to knowledge in the public interest. That’s a very important issue and it’s certainly related to Internet governance.

Q: What makes intellectual property law work across borders, and how do we develop standards?

A: One of the difficulties, not just with copyright law but with a lot of law, is that in terms of how it’s applicable, it’s national in nature. A nation cannot legislate for another nation. But one good thing about copyright and IP laws is that there are a lot of international standards in the form of international treaties which are then implemented by each country. So there is a measure of standardization, but with some kind of individualized, national differences.

In terms of governance, how the standards, and how the laws come to be, there are really two ways. One is what we really call hard law which is the treaties and the national laws that I spoke of. There is also, what we call soft law which are norms that are built through discussion and through consensus. Both the hard law and soft law can come from different players and different forums. The World International Property Organization, for example, does a lot of treaty discussions that go on there but there are also other norms that can also develop from the discussions there that become practices, and so its a fairly fluid process that encompasses many different players and that can take place in various forms. So there isn’t necessarily just a top-down – a government or a series of governments say this shall be it. It doesn’t happen that way. The governments can get together and agree on a treaty, that’s the hard law, but other contributors like civil society, NGOs other participants in the process can participate in other norm settings. That, we think, is what the IGF can also help and that is why we’re here.

Q: Do you think copyright can serve as a model for how the Internet should be governed?

A: I think the process can be illustrative. I would hesitate to say that in the copyright field we would be the model, in part because its just one of many discussions that is going on and in part because we don’t know what is actually going to happen. But I think the process we are adopting of involving governments, international policy makers, the business community, as well as individuals and civil society, that that is a great model to operate on.

Laws get their legitimacy not just because they are written in the statute book but they have to be accepted by the persons whom you’re reporting to govern, and so to the extent that you have that participation and you have that consensus then it makes that law valid and it makes it lasting. That’s what we’re hoping to achieve.

Q: What is your greatest hope for the future of network information technology?

A: To put it very generally, I would like to see, in copyright terms, that balance that we keep speaking of at this forum, happen. That balance between giving the creators their due, but also ensuring the access to knowledge and free speech and openness and transparency is not forgotten and left by the wayside. I think that balance is really, really important.

The Internet has enabled a lot of creativity to happen, a lot of collaborations to happen and some of them may very well not be legal by current copyright laws in certain countries. I would like to see that change but I don’t want to see a situation where everything is free and absolute. Nor do I want to see a situation where everything is controlled and absolute. I would really like to see that balance be struck.

Q: What is your greatest fear for the future of network technologies?

A: My greatest fear is that we stop these dialogues or that these discussions don’t get us anywhere. We’ve heard some talk here that at some point has to be translated into action and that is my fear: that we can discuss these issues and we can discuss around these issues without actually coming up with best practices, with models with recommended flexibilities for different countries to implement in their laws.

That is one thing that the dynamic coalition I’m part of is hoping to address. If we and the other people working with us don’t happen to convince other people that that is a necessary job to do, then that would be my fear come to life.

Q: Describe the future impact of the Internet in one word.

A: Incredible.

This video transcript is offered for use under a Creative Commons Noncommercial License allowing no derivative works. Executive producers, Erin Barnett and Janna Quitney Anderson; chief engineer, Bryan Baker; videographers, Barnett and Baker; editor, Barnett.