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ITU Strategy and Policy Unit News Update 
Monthly Flash - October 2003

Issue 4 October 2003   

Previous editions

In this edition

Protecting the Rights of Creators While Insuring Access in the Digital Age (
Intellectual Capital in the Information Society : The case of P2P (peer-to-peer) networks
2. Information wants to be free: First steps to long-term goals
3. WSIS update
4. Related links

In the last quarter of the twentieth century, the information domain became 'turbo-charged', first through mass media and then ICTs. Suddenly, information processing could be 'industrialized'; copying and dissemination could in principle be virtually instantaneous and infinite; access could be made universal, or universally denied. The stakes were hugely raised in terms of creativity, the balance between ownership and social use of information, and information and communication rights. Today the roles of information and communication are international arenas of contention, with dynamics often pulling against each other.

"Information wants to be free" is one of the themes discussed at the Visions of the information society conferences organised by the ITU Strategy and Policy Unit (SPU), in the context of the second meeting of the Preparatory Committee for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS PrepCom-2), held in February 2003 in Geneva. PrepCom-2  brought together some 1586 participants from government administrations, private sector entities, non-governmental organizations (NGO), and civil society groups representing various sectors of society at large. Summaries, presentations and full-length papers are available for downloading at 

* The extracts published here are adapted from papers prepared for the Visions conferences. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ITU or its membership.

1. Intellectual Capital in the Information Society: The case of P2P (peer-to-peer) Networks 

The Internet is essentially a communication network which allows people to connect with each other and to exchange resources and ideas. The World Wide Web is structured around a client-server model, and was not originally designed as a conduit for person-to-person interaction. 

“The promotion of innovation and the protection of its products is the goal of intellectual property law, more imperative than ever in this digital age” (World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) survey)

The dramatic evolution of networked communications, in both speed and capacity, has today brought the emergence of a new form of communication, no longer based on a client-server hierarchy, but on an equal relationship between groups of users, or peers, i.e. people at an equivalent level in the Internet hierarchy; hence the expression "peer-to-peer", abbreviated as P2P.

Systems using peer-to-peer technology, such as Kazaa, today allow for the sharing of files among individual users, and offer them the possibility to exchange copyrighted material, such as musical files, facilitating the violation of copyright laws. Box 1 describes the case of Kazaa which took place in 2003. 

A P2P network can be composed either entirely of peers at the same level (decentralised P2P) or a sort of hybrid system of client-server and a peer network (centralized P2P). In the second instance, a centralized server directly links all the connected users together. Without this server there is no network. An example of a P2P network using a centralized technology is the well-known Napster network, which acted as an intermediary between two peers, facilitating MP3 file seeking.

In a decentralised network, conversely, each PC is a node, which is at the same time both a client and a server. Every computer in the network is connected to every other computer without the need for any centralized server to control the content. Equality among peers is perfect in this case, as the information goes through all the connected computers. Todaythere are numerous new decentralized architectures, such as Kazaa, Morpheus and Grokster, which have implemented new technologies and enhanced the accessibility and the quality of their services.

Box 1: Jurisdiction and online music: The case of Kazaa

Perhaps the most famous - or infamous - example of  a  jurisdiction "chase" is the one that  took place against Kazaa, a popular file-sharing service delivering encrypted songs, movies, and videogames, to about 60 million users worldwide.  The music and film industry attempted to sue Kazaa in early 2003, but encountered many problems in the localization of the company, as its organizational structure was fragmented among several states. Kazaa, initially based in The Netherlands, was then sold to an Australian investment firm with its assets being split between other countries. Copyright holders are therefore trying to coordinate lawsuits against at least five companies in three countries. Kazaa is facing separate lawsuits, brought by national music copyright organizations, in the Netherlands and the United States. Cases like this one, a representative from the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) affirmed, leave national copyright holders with little recourse.

Sources: "The Race to Kill Kazaa", Wired News, February 2003, at See also the case Toys 'R' Us v. Step two, and relating articles: "Does Operating a Web Site Confer Jurisdiction?", LawMeme, February 1, 2003, at; and Can the "World Be Copyrighted?" , Wired News, February 26, 2002.  

As discussed above, P2P computers are an integral part of the Internet network, rather than being peripheral clients to a server, which effectively enables exploitation of the potential residing at the edges of the network infrastructure  - but not only to negative effect 

The P2P model is seen as key element in Internet evolution, and many of the most innovative initiatives on the Internet  derive from the utilisation of this model, including the dissemination and popularization of music and film. But P2P is also at the basis of instant messaging (IM) services and chat software (such as IRC), of the SETI project- where the spare capacity of PCs is used for the elaboration of data. Furthermore, it is used for university cooperation programmes, and helps the exchange of information among researchers. Additionally, as the cost of distribution through the Internet is practically inexistent, unknown artists are likely to use the new potential provided by these technologies to spur their careers and be less dependent upon the traditional music distribution system. Peer-to-peer technology in itself can be a vehicle to foster innovation and the spread of new intellectual creations.

Download full length paper on Intellectual Capital in the Information Society

2. Information wants to be free: First steps to long-term goals 

This paper explores the role of information (and of communication, to which it is inextricably linked) as the central element of two basic pillars of all societies: the means by which we encourage and promote creativity and innovation, and the means by which we build and sustain social and political interactions and institutions.  After reviewing historical trends and current concerns in relation to both, one comes to the conclusion that the two are coming into conflict, which could have serious consequences for the future.

"... "there are not enough lawyers in the world to sue all the people we'd have to sue" [quoting Hillary Rosen, president of the RIAA]... "

( from J. Mann, “The Heavenly Juke Box”, The Atlantic Online, September 2000.)

A growing number of individuals in society at large, NGOs and alliancesbelieve that the very concept of copyright  needs to be radically amended in the new information age Although this should be long-term goal, the following first steps towards this goal might already be taken.

1.       A Review and Realignment of Copyright:  A thorough review is required to determine how to realign copyright with its intended purpose -  balancing the protection of  companies and industry  with offering sufficient rewards for creativity. This balance is needed to sustain innovation, and  to disseminate information and knowledge where it can be used to best effect, by everyone in society. Given the  powerful positions of government and industry, this will require strong alliances with society at large and with smaller players. The World Trade Organization (WTO) TRIPS agreements and WIPO Conventions are of central relevance here, and issues requiring consideration include the following:

  • Whether development can be best encouraged through tailoring a diversity of copyright regimes to the different circumstances, rather than through uniformity;

  • The duration of copyright owners' monopoly, including the possibility of variable lengths in different contexts;
  • The extent and nature of 'fair-use' in the context of development needs and the public sphere;
  • The special circumstances of the digital era, whose potential for creativity should be maximised, avoiding an overly heavy emphasis on the protection of copyright holders while also affording them sufficient incentive in order to promote innovation;
  • Specific recognition and support for alternatives to copyright, with the possibility of more open and collective ownership structures.

2. A Declaration on the Public Sphere and Information and Communication Rights. A key problem for the public sphere, as described here, is that the concept is not currently widely understood and recognised. It is clearly embedded, under various names and headings, in Constitutions and international Agreements, and such notions as 'freedom of the press' and 'freedom of expression' are widely accepted. But the underlying rationale has dissipated, slowly eroded  over timeThe risk of this is that individual rights may be left standing, but that the overall right of the public to hold government or corporate entities accountable may fade into disuse owing to lack of awareness or disincentive. In reviewing this role, protection of the public sphere should therefore be clearly asserted or enhanced.

The goal would be to bring some coherence to these matters in relation to their role in our democratic institutions and in international cooperation.

But a declaration only lays the path for more definitive action. For these rights and the public sphere to benefit from greater protection, an intergovernmental UN Treaty might provide a positive step on the way to finding a successful balance. What must be achieved is a means to defend information and communication rights, and the public sphere, in balance with trade and commerce interests. The result will be beneficial to maintaining a sustainable process of creativity and innovation, which will in turn provide both social and economic benefits.

The Protocol to the EU Treaty of Amsterdam protecting subsidies to public service media from accusations of market distortion is a small example of the kind of protection that could be afforded within free trade agreements. Many more measures could be taken, including in communication and information rights

The paper "Information wants to be free" goes on to propose a number of concrete and practical actions on how to sustain and build a public sphere with true freedom of information.

3. WSIS update 

The new versions of the Declaration of Principles and Draft Action Plan are now available on the WSIS site.

4. Related Links 


Visions of the Information Society: Information wants to be free
World Summit on the Information Society: Content and Themes
World Intellectual Property Organisation

For further information on Policy and Strategy Trends, please contact: ITU Strategy and Policy Unit, International Telecommunication Union, Place des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 20 (Switzerland). Fax: +41 22 730 6453. E-mail: . Website:



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