Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Vienna Conclusions

From Heise, Germany.

Microsoft, the "Vienna Conclusions," and the UN World Summit


The Vienna Conclusions drawn up for the UN's World Summit on the Information Society WSIS) were presented in an edited version in Tunis.

Digital Rights Management was inserted where "free software" used to be. It turned out that these changes were made at the request of Thomas Lutz, a member of the management board at Microsoft Austria, and ÖVP representative Carina Felzmann, who also heads a PR and lobbying firm.

The Chancellor of Austria published the text presented in Tunis. His office has yet to react to a query in this matter that heise online placed last Sunday.

Under the title ICT + Creativity, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel (ÖVP) sent out invitations last June to a top-notch international conference for the WSIS. Microsoft was one of its sponsors.

In various panels on various topics, experts held discussions, with the results being protocolled in texts mutually approved.

These texts were collectively published as the Vienna Conclusions.

One of the panels was called Digital Rights / Creative Commons. Nii Narku Quaynor, then-CEO of Network Computer Systems Limited of Ghana and a former African representative at ICANN, chaired the panel.

Ralf Bendrath, political scientist at the University of Bremen and a monitor of the WSIS process for the Heinrich Böll Foundation, reported on the panel. Other participants included Georg C.F. Greve of the Free Software Foundation of Europe (FSFE), Richard Owens of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Georg Pleger of Creative Commons Austria, and Peter Rantasa of Music Information Center Austria (mica).

Bendrath and Greve were shocked when they saw the brochures distributed in Tunis (PDF file) (allegedly) containing the Vienna Conclusions.

Instead of the original text from "their" panel, they read a version that differed in several substantial respects.

To begin with, there was no talk anywhere of the "success of free software." In addition, the meaning of the section that discussed the revenue shift from content and digital works to services based on them had also been changed.

The statement that software should be seen as the cultural technology of digital society was watered down to "the practical and simple use of software."

Likewise, the following two passages popped up out of nowhere: "Commercial products bring innovation to the mass of consumers all over the world"; and "To ensure ongoing innovation, Digital Rights Management (DRM) development and deployment must remain voluntary and market-driven."

At first glance, this might sound consumer-friendly, but actually it is a jab against the EU's attempts to regulate DRM.

"DRM has nothing to do with innovation. The Sony rootkit also shows that there is nothing voluntary about DRM," argues Greve. "In Tunis, we tried to talk with the Austrians (about the editing of the text). But they were too busy celebrating the 'World Summit Award' and its funding with the sponsors."

When the television show ORF futureZone reported, "media professor" Dr. Peter Aurelius Bruck, "Editor-in-Chief" of the brochure that the Austrian Chancellor's Office published, started taking part in the online forum. While Bruck did not deny that changes were made, he did accuse the journalists at ORF of "misleading the public." After the conference he directed, he launched a public blog so that all of the texts could be discussed further. But Greve and Bendrath claimed that no one who took part in the panel was informed of this blog. Indeed, the blog does contain three postings on the content of the DNA Conclusions, two of which concern the Digital Rights / Creative Commons panel.

On September 27, three days before the blog was closed as announced, the entry "Comments from Microsoft Corporation" appeared, signed by "Thomas Lutz, Manager Public Affairs Mitglied der Geschäftsleitung Microsoft Österreich GmbH". He proposed that all of the passages that spoke of the success of free software or the revenue shift from content and digital works toward services be deleted altogether. Microsoft felt that they should not be kept because the goal of free software is to make it impossible for anyone to earn money from software. "This is so obviously stupid and nonsensical that it seems pointless to comment on it", Greve comments in his own blog: "Just another monopolist trying to uphold their monopoly by preventing freedom of markets – which is what Free Software really aims at."

The changes that Microsoft proposed were taken out without the members of the panel even being consulted. Further down, Microsoft successfully has the sentence concerning "innovation through commercial products" added to the text.


(Daniel AJ Sokolov) (Craig Morris)


What did the Vienna Conclusion state?

Here you go:

From Fellowship of FSFE blog


...The conference used lots of formulas like "ICT+Creativity=Content", which also implied that "Content-ICT=Creativity". In this light, I guess what we've seen here is the good old formula


And this is definitely not something that can be blamed on the Tunisian government, which has received a lot of heat during this summit. It goes to show things are never black and white here.

So this is the entire text of the workshop. Not the best text I've ever participated in, but -- especially considering all players involved -- also not the worst. You're invited to pick up the printed version and compare:

Text of Workshop 2 for Vienna Conclusions

Digital Rights and Creative Commons

Human creativity in its expression, results and distribution thereof is currently undergoing a massive transformation.

This fundamentally affects the rights of all of humankind. The rights of artists, musicians, scientists, writers, designers, programmers and other creative people must be preserved and strengthened to express themselves freely in their work, to develop and communicate through all media, and to determine how their works are used, including whether they are used for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Because we all can be producers and distributors of content now, everybody should also have a right to get education that builds capacity and enables these cultural expressions. The public - as users, consumers, and citizens - has a right to access and use information and knowledge. This includes fair access to culture, but also a protection of fundamental human rights and civil liberties like privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of information, and the rule of law.

The new possibilities of content production and distribution also impact incentive structures and underlying economic models.

The worldwide copyright system is currently undergoing a transformation giving more choices to creators and users. Increasingly, revenue is generated not by selling content and digital works, as they can be freely distributed at almost no cost, but by offering services on top of them.

The success of the Free Software model is one example, licenses like "Creative Commons" that only reserve some rights and permit wide use and distribution is another. Distributed collaborative production models like Wikipedia also show that there are other incentives than money to create quality content.

In the digital age , the business models of copyright intermediaries will only be viable if they offer quality services on top of the content.

The challenge ahead is to develop an economy of sharing, collaboration and service that will, at least in the near term, coexist with the traditional economy of scarcity, control and technological restrictions.

Our knowledge and culture is the reservoir from which new content is created and in which creativity finds its fertile ground. It must therefore remain accessible to the public under reasonable and fair conditions. Copyrights and patents were developed in part to create incentives for production of quality content, and their role should be reexamined in order to meet this goal in the future while safeguarding the public interest in access to information and culture.

Software must be understood as the cultural technique of a digital society. With ICTs permeating all aspects of everyday life, software acts as social regulator. Similar to law, it controls essential parts of human interaction and creativity. Unlike law, it knows no exceptions and is ultimately binding.

It is therefore seminal for society to shape, make transparent and control the codified rules that in turn shape society. This is where freedom as a fundamental human right and prerequisite of democracy meets collaborative creative approaches.

Political freedom in the digital age depends upon technological freedom, which ensures access to the cultural heritage of humankind for present and future generations.


One of the spooky parts of the Vienna Conclusions, as I first read it, must surely be this:

"...the traditional economy of scarcity, control and technological restrictions."

What this means is that certain forces will perhaps try to keep information "scarce", they want to "control" it, and they want it to be difficult to share, due to unnecessary "technological restrictions", e.g., something like this: only a certified webmaster should be allowed to operate a web site, blog, or wiki.

I see a subtle attack on the wilderness of the web, the bellicose anarchy of the blogosphere, the unpredicable, unlicensed, uncensored exchange of ideas worldwide. There seems to be a desire to create a priesthood of caretakers, which is code for thought policing.

The UN seeks to control the internet, web, and blogosphere.

This cannot be allowed to occur.

[signed] Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate


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