April 26 is World Intellectual Property Day recognizing a topic that is increasingly vital and contentious in today's environment of copyright, patent and trademark battles.
Appropriately for the media industry, this year's theme is "Movies: a Global Passion," which the World IP Organization cites as a way to recognize "creative and innovative genius," including purveyors of new technologies that are generating "more means of dissemination, on screens large and small." The entire Intellectual Property issue is conveniently tied to IP (as in Internet Protocol), an acronymical coincidence and reminder that cable's broadband agenda is based on an array of IP issues, including international presence (another "IP").
This narrowly celebrated "holiday" couldn't come at a more apt moment. As if the Aereo argument at the Supreme Court and the FCC's "open internet" brouhaha weren't strong enough reminders, this week's "Net Mundial" international conference in São Paulo put the spotlight on global disputes about intellectual property. That factor becomes more crucial as cable/communications companies expand their global footprint into a world where American rules may not always prevail.
"Intellectual property" is that broad amorphous term that covers all kinds of content and products. By some measures, it's America's biggest import, according to the Institute for Policy Innovation, which ran its ninth annual World Intellectual Property Forum in Washington this week. April 26 marks the anniversary of the day in 1970s when the WIPO Convention came into force. Since 2000, WIPO has designated this day for an annual celebration.
Not coincidentally, the Brazilian conference this week on Internet governance served as a reminder about the world's suspicions of an American-dominated Internet. (Russian President Putin's remark that the entire Internet is a CIA plot added a comic - or scary - alternative view.) The concluding Net Mundial pronouncements acknowledged an "age of mass surveillance and corporate monopolies," suggesting continuing battles similar to the ones after the 2012 International Telecommunications Union smackdown in Dubai.
As one speaker at the IPI forum in D.C. characterized it, the São Paulo meeting sought a "World Give Away Everything for Free" Day.
While such hyperbolic rhetoric doesn't make for happy IP party chatter, it's a reminder that copyright and patent issues are will affect the cable industry's road ahead. International skirmishes aside, the IP business may be rocked by the Supreme Court's Aereo decision (even, as now appears likely, it is a narrow ruling affecting only that company's fate but not expansive to the cloud) and by the fomenting patent reform legislation now working through Congress.
Words like "transformative," "disruptive" and "derivative" are bandied about during these IP debates. They're good terms during a week in which IP factors have been part of several big deals, such as the HBO/Amazon Prime streaming agreement and the AT&T/Chernin pact for over-the-top content.
It's just the beginning of IP overload. As musician/entrepreneur David Lowery, another IPI Forum speaker, put it: "a crazy, legal nightmare."
Happy World IP Day.
Gary Arlen monitors tech policy affecting media and telecom at Arlen Communications
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