On October 25th the National Library of Guyana hosted a lecture titled “Developing a strategic intellectual property plan for Guyana – the copyright proposal” as part of its celebration of 109 years of service to the nation.
This discourse and all others which approach the subject from the perspective of law and policy scholarship and best practices in developing countries, are especially important as Guyana attempts to put modern Copyright laws in place, a fact that was thoroughly appreciated by those who attended.
It is perhaps indicative of the level of apathy still present despite President Granger’s declaration that Copyright legislation will be enacted in 2019, that the Ministers whose responsibilities include IPRs and who accepted the invitation to attend did not show up, nor did they proffer any excuses for holding up the programme before or after the event.
The discourse involved elucidation of the supporting infrastructure necessary for the relevant legislation to be effective, such as an Intellectual Property Office, and facilitated opinions about what a Copyright Bill should contain in order to balance the interests of rights holders and users of copyrighted works, as well as aspects of the economic value of intellectual property [AI1] rights to the country.
It explored relevance to international conventions for IP to which Guyana is a signatory such as the Berne convention and the TRIPS agreement (Trade Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), Private International Law and Intellectual Property diplomacy.
It is interesting that there are more noises made in Guyana about the impending downfall of merchants small and large whose prosperity relies on pilfering the goods of other hardworking people and selling them for value (under Criminal law this constitutes the offences of stealing and trafficking in stolen goods), than any support given for reformed laws that balance the interests of all parties ensuring that there is a chance that creators of intellectual content are recompensed fairly and retain some control over how this content is utilized and by whom.
Intellectual Property rights (IPRs) are not new, they can be formally traced to the British Statute of Monopolies enacted in 1623 which allowed inventors and authors to retain ownership of rights for a period of 14 years during which the author or invention had exclusive rights to oversee how the invention was used.
The statute of Anne followed in 1710 with similar provisions but with terms for renewal of those rights, and Paris convention in 1883, which gave protection of one’s IPRs in all countries that are signatories to the convention. The Berne Convention and TRIPS agreement mentioned above provide similarly for international reciprocity.
None of these is self-executing, meaning that they must be enacted into law in the signatory country before they can take effect, and in the case of TRIPS, there is some leverage as to the minimum standards of protection for all areas of IP. There are also exceptions which allow governments to refuse to grant patents for reasons relating to public health and to make limited exceptions to patent rights for the same reason.
Intellectual property rights are in essence economic rights, and governments the world over have ensconced them in their economic plans for their countries because of economic benefits both domestic and international, and because they understand the value of cultivating a culture of innovation and technological development in a society in order for it to thrive.
In the United States, it is enshrined in the country’s constitution under Article 1,section 8, clause 8 that Congress has the enumerated power “ to promote the progress of science and technology and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”
The confused offerings on the impending Copyright laws are indications of ignorance regarding international norms and diplomacy, particularly in respect of trade, and an acceptance of lawlessness as a norm in our society, where rules that promote fairness are disregarded or not even considered, so that those who do not create anything live on the backs of those who do. These are not conditions under which international companies would be interested in investing in Guyana, nor can there be rapid developments in endogenous innovations, where there is no confidence that the policies and laws of the country protect the rights of creators, locally and internationally.
The government of Guyana has indicated a willingness to deal with one aspect of IPRs namely Copyright, but its policy positions have not been adumbrated. There is no indication of how these new rules will be implemented, monitored and supported. There is no Intellectual Property Office which will be responsible for registrations of IPRs, providing guidance to those who wish to use them, maintaining a database for registrations, educating the public on the issues and keeping the government abreast with international developments in the area.
There is need for the establishment of a committee to develop and implement strategy for this law to work in the society, it is foolish to think that the mere passage of a Bill into law will change the way things work, without providing supporting infrastructure.
Finally, it is time that proper scholarship and technical expertise are engaged as part of the process of creating a structure for IPRs that will work for the country as obtains in best practices all over the world. There has been enough mindless babbling on the subject.
Dr. Abiola Inniss
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