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[ox-en] Brazil Reshapes Debate on Intellectual Property

Brazil Reshapes Debate on Intellectual Property

Wed Feb 2, 8:17 AM ET
By Terry Wade

SAO PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazil's president often gets criticized
by his old leftist friends for being conservative at home. But globally
he has reshaped the debate on intellectual property rights to reflect
the needs of poor nations.

In two years, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has forced the United Nations
(news - web sites) to change its global patent system, irked Microsoft
Corp. by scorning its proprietary software, and annoyed recording
studios by putting the music of his dreadlocked culture minister online
for free.

This year, the government will help 1 million middle-class families buy
computers loaded with open-source software, which is developed
collectively. It also will open 1,000 centers with free Internet access,
running free software, in poor neighborhoods.

Lula has accelerated a movement started by his predecessor, Fernando
Henrique Cardoso, who pressured big drug companies to cut prices in the
late 1990s after threatening to break patents on anti-AIDS (news - web
sites) cocktails.

Brazil is now at the forefront of what may be a global shift in how
knowledge is produced and distributed. It has spurred a debate about
what inventions should get patents, becoming intellectual property.

Lula believes software, science and art should be governed by
open-source laws that would loosen up current standards.

But some drugmakers and entertainment companies say they are losing
money and the incentive to invest. They favor tighter patent rules and
say they need more protections to justify hefty research budgets and
expansion into developing countries such as China.

"Brazil is now the case study," said Eben Moglen, a law professor at
Columbia University in New York and general counsel of the Free Software
Foundation. "It will play a major role in intellectual property talks
and is going to provide an alternative example."

Along the way, Lula has forged a diverse set of allies, including
companies like Sun Microsystems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., which
support free software and now derive much of their revenue from services
and hardware. There are also hippies-turned-digital-libertarians such as
John Perry Barlowe, a lyricist for the Grateful Dead band and founder of
the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Government officials cheered this month when International Business
Machines Corp. released 500 patents to promote open-source technology.

"Sun, HP and IBM don't intimidate the Brazilian government, they
collaborate with us," said Sergio Amadeu, Lula's head of technology
policy. He has helped Brazil's expansive bureaucracy abandon Microsoft's
costly Windows operating system and adopt free alternatives like Linux
(news - web sites) instead.

Microsoft sued Amadeu last year for criticizing its closed-source
business model but then dropped the charges. It declined to comment for
this article but has said it is intensifying anti-piracy efforts.

This year, the U.N.'s World Intellectual Property Organization, which
critics say traditionally has worked to tighten patent rules, is
expected to loosen them under a joint Argentine-Brazil initiative that
could, for example, improve access to patented AIDS drugs.


Advocates of open-source technology say society is morally obligated to
increase access to knowledge and that science produces better results
faster under a collaborative research model.

Brazil was the first nation requiring all software programs developed by
taxpayer funds to be licensed as open-source. That allows any individual
or company to use any program, so long as they make modified versions
available to everyone else.

"Free software is not synonymous with free lunch, but with free
thought," said Ronaldo Lemos, a law professor at the Fundacao Getulio
Vargas business school in Rio de Janeiro who helped bring the licenses
to Brazil.

Lula's culture minister, musician Gilberto Gil, has put at least one of
his songs online for free, betting that he will make more money from
concerts if more people have access to his music. In so doing, he
provided an example for artists wanting to sell directly to listeners
and cut out record companies in the middle.

Claudio Prado, Gil's head of efforts to change copyright rules for the
arts, says the dominant model is antiquated.

"The commercial life of music right now is six months to a year, but
copyrights can last 70 years, so lots of music gets stuck in the tomb of
forgotteness," he said. Freeing up old music for remixes could improve
earnings for artists, he said.

The United States has threatened to withdraw millions of dollars in
trade benefits for Brazil unless it more actively enforces anti-piracy
rules covering software and music. Brazil has agreed to do this, but
says piracy only exists because of proprietary software.

"Fight piracy," Amadeu said, "buy open-source software."

Organization: projekt

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