Working paper Open Access
This working paper is a lightly edited transcript of a CREATe public lecture delivered at the University of Glasgow on 28 November 2018.
The World Trade Organization TRIPS Agreement established multilateral rules on “trade related aspects of intellectual property”, purporting to do away with distortions and impediments to trade, and to establish a benchmark for adequate and effective intellectual property protection. It posits a positive-sum relation between the producers and users of technological knowledge. These rules were drawn up a generation ago in Geneva, exactly where and when the World Wide Web was in the process of being invented. The Web epitomises the technological developments – the digital disruptions – that have revolutionised the ways in which intellectual property is formed, regulated, managed and traded; yet the TRIPS Agreement was concluded at a time when creative content was mostly embedded in physical media, and almost exclusively counted as trade in goods. New business models for the creative industries and new technology platforms for the distribution of content have outpaced regulatory, legislative processes, let alone the capacity of multilateral rules to be adapted and updated to respond to these developments. Recent bilateral and regional deals – negotiated expressly outside the multilateral sphere – have sought to define and promote digital trade.
This working paper reviews the abiding significance of the TRIPS Agreement for trade in creative content against the fundamental shift from trade in physical carrier media to trade in network data packets: is TRIPS somehow ‘wired’ – a timely trade pact that foreshadowed the growth in trade in IP as a valued good in itself; or ‘tired’ – rooted in a bygone set of assumptions about how IP is traded; or indeed ‘expired’, superseded by fundamental technological shifts and subsequent trade deals? The paper concludes by reflecting more broadly on what the impact of technological disruption can tell us about the essential relationship between the creator and the consumer of creative works, and the limitations of ways of understanding diffusion of creative works that are limited to legal, technical or regulatory frameworks