member states to promote access to information and knowledge for the progress of science and the diffusion of education, keeping in mind the necessity of rigorous conformity with international conventions on intellectual property.
It is in this spirit that UNESCO has been working, following a directive of its General Conference in 1997, to elaborate a draft recommendation concerning the Promotion and Use of Multilingualism and Universal Access to Cyberspace.1 When submitted to the General Conference at its last session two years ago, no consensus was forthcoming. I therefore intervened personally by proposing that further structured consultation involving member states, other stakeholders, and experts be organized by the Secretariat with a view to generating greater consensus.
This process of consensus building has moved forward successfully and the revised draft recommendation will be considered by the General Conference at its 32nd session, where it likely will be adopted. It will then be presented as a contribution of UNESCO to the first World Summit on the Information Society to be held in Geneva in December 2003. Two of the four main sections of the proposed draft recommendation—“development of public domain content” and “reaffirming the equitable balance between the interests of rights-holders and the public interest”—bear directly on the themes of this symposium. Without attempting to be comprehensive in the short time available, I will allude to some of the major points of the proposed draft recommendation in discussing the action that UNESCO is undertaking to promote practical solutions in these areas.
Public-domain information is publicly accessible information, the use of which does not infringe any legal right or any obligation of confidentiality. It thus refers to the realm of all works or objects of related rights that can be exploited by everybody without any authorization. While many people associate the public domain mainly with classical and traditional literature, an equally important store of public-domain information for development, and undoubtedly most important for science, is public data and official information produced and voluntarily made available by governments or international organizations.
Another paradox arises here. Public-domain information, which is free of copyright, is often not sufficiently well known to potential contributors and users, and in some countries there are growing restrictions on the availability and use of public information and data. Such restrictions arise, for example, when information and data that are in the public domain become privatized or commercialized through a process of re-packaging.
In fact, the electronic public domain forms an international virtual public library that is vast and growing. This electronic public domain, furthermore, is both a world heritage and an invaluable support for productive commercial- and creative-sector activities in developing and industrialized countries. All would gain if governments and other public service organizations would identify and digitize their rich and diverse information stocks and make them available through the Internet. Thus, the UNESCO draft recommendation encourages member states to “recognize and enact the right of universal online access to public and government-held records” and to “identify and promote repositories of information and knowledge in the public domain and make them available to all.”
UNESCO is encouraging this process in international forums and also in its advice to member states, notably through the preparation of “Policy Guidelines for the Development and Promotion of Public Domain Information.”2
The public-domain principle can be extended conceptually by the assimilation of open-access information made freely available by its rights holders without cost. One well-known example of open access is the open-source software license by which computer programs are distributed free of charge by their authors for exploitation and cooperative development. Another is the vast amount of documentation produced and made available free of charge by the United Nations and its specialized agencies. Yet another is the movement of educational institutions around the world to provide their educational resources on the Internet free of charge for noncommercial usage,