Stakeholders get together for Business Policy Roundtable

May 2, 2009 at 12:05 am 6 comments

digital-ipr-coverI got up on Thursday morning wondering how I would get to the Sheraton (or even if I should try). But it was “our” event. How could I not go? So I got myself geared up and off I went. It took me all of 20 minutes to get to the Sheraton whereas usually it takes about 45 minutes. Traffic was thin, to say the least.

I reached the hotel early to find that our partners from CIPE were already there. They had organized tea and coffee and some delicious snacks which people could have while they networked before the Roundtable actually began. We were hoping that around 30 people would show up – 45 people actually did.

It was encouraging to see that there was representation from all sorts of stakeholders – from IT companies (local and international), banks, media organisations, FMCGs, ISPs, the legal fraternity, the pharmaceutical sector as well as the FIA.

The proceedings started on time with a welcome from Hammad Siddiqui, Program Manager of CIPE. This was followed by a brief opening address from me where I highlighted the fact that more and more Intellectual Property was being created in the digital domain in Pakistan – not only by IT firms but also by production houses, photographers, health professionals, education professsionals, artists, musicians and all other types of businesses. There needed to be legislation that dealt with these changes to protect the innovation that was taking place as well to ensure that the rights of individuals were safeguarded.

I also spoke about the Electronics Crimes Ordinance 2008 which is going to be brought up again before Parliament. It still ipr-roundtablecontains flaws in definitions and does not include safeguards for individuals and businesses. There are three things that need to happen: relevant and fair legislation needs to be enacted, the judiciary and law enforcement officials need to understand what the legislation means so that they do not ask questions like “If you still have your source code, how could it have been stolen?”, and an awareness needs to be created regarding rights and responsibilities.

The star of the Roundtable was of course Barrister Zahid Jamil who spent the next hour talking about the gaps in the present legislation and why they need to be fixed. He also presented a couple of case studies of companies who had their IP stolen and the process they had followed to protect the years of hard work that had gone into the development of their product.

zahid-jamil-in-actionZahid also talked about cyberquatting and gave examples of large organizations whose domain names had been “grabbed” by other people who demanded large amounts of money to give them back. He also gave examples of hackers putting up pornographic or pirated content on websites of reputable organizations to either ruin their image or make money selling sub-standard medicines or other wares.

He talked about the international legislation (WCT and WPPT) that existed and that Pakistan should become a signatory to. Both the WCT and the WPPT address the challenges posed by today’s digital technologies, in particular the dissemination of protected material over digital networks such as the Internet.  For this reason, they have sometimes been
referred to as the “Internet treaties” and have already been adopted by more than 100 countries.

participantsThe discourse that followed brought out some very important issues including the need for Privacy, Data Proetection and Data Confidentiality legislation on the one hand and frameworks and structures for the sharing and licensing of IP that was created. For instance, according to Owais Aslam Ali of Pakistan Press Foundation and PPI, if he wants to use an article that has appeared in the New York Times or The Guardian, he can do so at a very minimal fee. However, if he would like to do the same for something that has appeared in a local paper, no such structure exists.

Apple’s iTunes has created a framework for the legal downloading of music at a cost that is affordable and yet does not infringe on the rights of musicians and vocalists, so creative ways of legally sharing content created by others are being found.

The US Defense Department is enlisting an open source approach to software development” an about-face for such a historically top-down organization. In recent weeks, the military has launched a collaborative platform called Forge.mil for its developers to share software, systems components and network services. The agency also signed an agreement with the Open Source Software Institute to allow 50 internally developed workforce management applications to be licensed to other government agencies, universities and companies.”Details available at this link.

Privacy is becoming an important issue with government organizations, banks, mobile companies and everyone and their dog collecting information from individuals. We need privacy legislation so that there can be guidelines on the use and limited sharing of this information.

Participants at the Roundtable shared experiences and made suggestions. Some pointed out that in addition to legislation and enforcement, organisations should be encouraged to keep pricing in line with the country’s purchasing power.Companies were also encouraged to have well-encompassing non-compete clauses as well as stringent confidentiality clauses within employment contracts, and to make employees aware of the dangers of IPR infringement.They were also advised to take precautions by securing business data online, and providing access to employees through servers, in addition to establishing other internal controls for the security and safety of  company data and trade secrets.

A set of draft recommendations were put together at the conclusion of the Roundtable discussion, and a decision was made that workshops, seminars and focus groups would be held at chambers, within organisations and at universities to create an awareness and to get consensus on the path toward a workable IPR regime.

A small volunteer group was formed to move ahead with the task of forming a strategy and a pressure/lobbying group that would get the views of all stakeholders and would interact with the government to ensure that policies and legislation were in tune with the requirements of individuals and businesses.

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