Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Possible Major Shakeup in International IP System after US withdrawal of funding from UNESCO

The United States cut funding to UNESCO yesterday in response to the approval of the Palestinian bid for membership in UNESCO. The CBC reports this morning that Canada is now considering whether it should follow suit. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is considering "how much" support it gives, perhaps in place of complete withdrawal. The US also plans to retain membership in UNESCO despite the funding cut, according to the CBC.

Palestinian membership in UNESCO opens the door to Palestine joining WIPO, and a similar withdrawal of United States funding from WIPO. There is no indication at this point as to whether Canada might follow suit.

The United States' exit from UNESCO in 1984 led to a major reorganization of international intellectual property relations. It ultimately resulted in the United States' joining of the WIPO Berne Convention, the decline of UNESCO's Universal Copyright Convention into irrelevance (also due to the establishment of the TRIPs Agreement) , and the rise of WIPO and the Berne Convention as the unrivaled cornerstone of international intellectual property and international copyright respectively. That led to a new era in intellectual property normsetting.

Non-payment of membership fees can lead to the loss of voting power in WIPO bodies. Were the United States to stop its payments, and were other countries like Canada to follow suit, the policymaking initiatives of the United States, having lost power in WIPO, would likely be taken to other forums. This raises the prospect of a major shakeup within UN bodies, and major changes to the shape of international intellectual property institutions and relations.

Update: The AP confirms that Canada will reduce funding to UNESCO.

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