[A2k] Digital rights and access to knowledge hang in the balance at the UN next month

Jeremy Malcolm jeremy at ciroap.org
Mon Jun 24 06:36:28 PDT 2013

(Cross-posted from Infojustice.org at http://infojustice.org/archives/30001) 

In the digital rights and access to knowledge movements, we spend a lot of our time fighting against bad proposals, that limit the public domain, restrict user rights such as fair use or fair dealing, and control the way we use digital products.

What if, rather than limiting ourselves to this negative and reactive approach, we could also promote the adoption of a positive global standard that would protect the rights of digital consumers, and uphold the importance of access to knowledge for all?

The good news is that we can, and that this month you have the opportunity to help make it happen. Over the last three years a global network of consumer activists has been crafting a set of amendments to an influential global instrument, the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection, that could provide a powerful global standard for digital rights and access to knowledge.

Amongst the best practices for consumers that the amended Guidelines would enshrine are:

Ensuring that equivalent consumer protection mechanisms apply no matter whether products or services are delivered online or offline, and whether or not they are supplied in a digital format, so that for example the consumers of digital content products such as e-books are treated on a level footing to consumers of equivalent analogue products such as printed books.

Requiring that suppliers of such digital content products inform consumers of the effect of any applicable technical protection measures (sometimes called “digital locks”) or interoperability limitations that could impede the consumer from using them, and not allowing such technological mechanisms to unreasonably limit the ways in which consumers can use such products.

Prohibiting suppliers from using unnecessarily long and complex standard contractual terms of service to take away consumers’ rights, and ensuring that consumers maintain control over content that is hosted for them online, without sacrificing their privacy.

Last year, we scored a magnificent victory, when the United Nations body with responsibility for the Guidelines, UNCTAD, agreed to their review, and set a date – July 11 and 12 this year – at which to consider proposed amendments. Consumers International was specifically mentioned as one of the bodies whose recommendations would be considered.

But at the last moment, our efforts towards improving standards of protection for digital consumers and fighting against corporate practices that that abuse their rights, could all be for nothing.

Why? Because the UNCTAD secretariat has signalled that it only wants to see two areas of amendment dealt with in this round of amendments – financial services and e-commerce. Whilst both of those areas are important, there are many other areas like access to knowledge that we feel are just as important. With an average of 15 years between each revision of the Guidelines, we don’t want to have to wait that long again before we have another chance to bring the Guidelines properly up to date.

How can you help? Contact your country’s consumer ministry or department to let them know that you support Consumers International’s proposed revisions to the Guidelines, and that you don’t want to see the revisions arbitrarily limited to just two subject areas. A pro forma letter is available as a guide if you need it.

If you don’t know how to contact your local consumer ministry or department, talk to your member of Parliament or Congress instead, or contact your local Consumers International member (their details are on our website) and they will help put you in touch with the right people.

You can also download our new publication, Updating the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection for the Digital Age, which provides more details about exactly what we’re asking for and why. Spread it around – it’s free!

Now is the time for us to stop playing catch-up to powerful industry lobby groups who are afraid of the Internet and the creative energy of consumers. It’s finally time for us to set the agenda for change, not them. Stand with us as we advocate for this powerful new statement of the rights of consumers in the digital age. Your help over the next month could make all the difference!

Dr Jeremy Malcolm
Senior Policy Officer
Consumers International | the global campaigning voice for consumers
Office for Asia-Pacific and the Middle East
Lot 5-1 Wisma WIM, 7 Jalan Abang Haji Openg, TTDI, 60000 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: +60 3 7726 1599

WCRD 2013 – Consumer Justice Now! | Consumer Protection Map: https://wcrd2013.crowdmap.com/main | #wcrd2013

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