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Information, Commodification and the World Trade Organization

Steven Shrybman

July 01, 2000

Information, Commodification and the World Trade Organization,  Paper prepared for presentation at the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions Annual Conference.

Abstract: The dramatic expansion of international trade regimes to encompass intellectual property rights and information services has far reaching implications for all societies. Because the goals of current trade policy reflect corporate priorities of privatization and de-regulation, they present a fundamental challenge to the programs, systems and laws needed to preserve and strengthen systems of public ownership and service delivery intended to provide universal access to information, art and culture.

Two trade disputes resolved under the new rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) reveal that international conventions negotiated under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organization will be subsumed to the enforceable framework of WTO disciplines. As these cases illustrate, information, artistic works and other forms of cultural expression will be treated as commodities just like other commercial products and goods. Moreover, WTO dispute panels are likely to resolve competing claims to this intellectual property with little regard for the non-commercial values upon which a reasonable balance of private rights and public interest depends.


Steven Shrybman