Announcing the “intellectual property means ” Counter Essay Contest July 2001

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Counter Essay Contest July 2001

In March, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) announced that it was establishing an international student essay contest asking the question: "WHAT DOES INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY MEAN TO YOU IN YOUR DAILY LIFE?" (see excerpts of release below.) It quickly became obvious to us what type of essays WIPO wanted. Anyone who answered that intellectual property (IP) means:

" I can't purchase anti-HIV drugs because of patent law" or,

" as a farmer, I can't get access to patent-protected seeds for planting" or,

" as a visually impaired person, I can't read books due to copyright restrictions" or,

" as a teacher, I can't distribute materials to my students for the same reason" or,

" I was fired from my job because I was a whistleblower"

or, a thousand other similar responses would not be winning a prize from WIPO, no matter how articulate or well-argued such an essay was. And, once again, the negative consequences of IP would go unchallenged in a flood of congratulatory rhetoric.  

And so what is the solution? Set up a counter/alternative essay contest, ask exactly the same question as WIPO, encourage a range of rather more critical responses, create a website where the essays can be posted and viewed, then find some judges, and, at the end of the contest, award some (admittedly modest) prizes. And that is what a group of us who teach, study, produce, use, and research intellectual property are now in the process of doing. Currently composed of 22 people in six countries (UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and The Netherlands), our group thinks such an essay contest, the public recording of personal testimonials, provides a good occasion to intervene in the international political, economic, and social debate about IP which has "moved to centre stage---and will stay there" as The Economist magazine recently commented. 
 The essay contest and our web site will be launched simultaneously on 4 Sept. 2001. The contest closes 15 March 2002 and the winner announced on 26 April 2002, the same day that WIPO announces its winners. To date, we have raised more than £UK1,200 (approx. $US1,800) for the prize fund.
 In addition to the counter essay contest, the web site will also feature a section of short news items and brief opinion pieces on harmful and negative developments across the entire IP spectrum: trade marks and freedom of speech, copyright in music, proprietary computer software, parodies of works, patents in plants, genes, and pharmaceuticals, the effects of IP on economic/cultural development, users' rights and fair dealing/fair use, "whistle blowing" and trade secrets, designs, right of publicity, etc. We extend a special invitation to contestants and those interested in IP from countries of the South to join in and to highlight the effects of the over- protection of intellectual property on peoples and countries which are outside of the European and North American domination of intellectual property dialogue. And, by the way, we also want to have some fun! 
As part of this year long project, we are also approaching several publishers and expect to publish a book containing the winning entries, plus a selection of other essays.  
To be clear on the purpose of this contest and this committee: we are not saying that individuals and corporations that produce intellectual property do not deserve some reward for their efforts. We are strongly opposed, however, to the over-protection of IP and according it trumping power over other values and social priorities such as access to medicines, to education, and to the sharing of ideas and information. 
Some further details : 

1) The question: "What does intellectual property mean to you in your daily life?" 

2) Essays can be submitted by anyone; that is, you do NOT have to be a student, though, of course, entries from student of all ages are encouraged. And contestants retain rights in their own submissions.

3) The maximum word length is 2,000 words; shorter submissions will not be penalised.

4) Initially (and purely because of limited resources), we will be accepting essays in English, French, Spanish and German ; those speaking other languages and those willing to judge in other languages are encouraged to contact us and we will work together to get more languages into the contest. 

5) Our contest website will also have links to other IP-related sites and campaigns.

6) We are in the process establishing an international panels of judges and would invite further nominations. 
 Between now and Sept 1, there is a lot of work to be done and we are only a small committee of volunteers with limited money and contacts. Perhaps you might like to

  • join our committee and help in the organisation (publicity, sponsors, website) 

  • receive more information 

  • endorse this contest and campaign and/or sponsor this contest and provide some financial support for prize money

  • offer your website as a mirror to the main contest website or set up reciprocal links between your site and ours.  


IP Counter Essay Contest Committee  

Alan Story, Co-Chair

Kent Law School, University of Kent,

Canterbury UK , CT2 NS   



  • Treatment Action Campaign (HIV/AIDS, health care - ) South

  • GENE CAMPAIGN ( ), New Delhi, India.

  • Center for the Public Domain ( ) Durham, North Carolina, USA

  • RTMark (brokerage for anti-corporate activism - ) UK

  • Negativland (experimental-music, radio and video collective, anti-corporate/copyright artist activists USA

  • Futuresonic ( the UK’s annual festival of sonic pleasure & audio visual arts - Manchester, UK

  • Electronic Frontier Foundation ( USA.

  • The Third World Network (, Penang, Malaysia

  • Critical Lawyers' Group, Kent Law School( ) Canterbury,UK.

  • The Register (“Biting the hand that feeds IT” online magazine-, London, UK.

  • Specialized Systems Consultants, Inc. (publishers of Linux Journal -, USA


  • Peter Drahos (IP Professor), Queen Mary and Westfield College, London, U.K. 

  • Noam Chomsky, Boston, Mass., U.S.A.  

  • Udo Schuklenk, (Head of Bioethics, Co-Editor BIOETHICS), University of the Witwatersrand , Johannesburg, South Africa.

  • Doug Henwood, (editor/ publisher, Left Business Observer) ) USA.

  • Peter Lurie, Deputy Director, Public Citizen's Health Research Group, Washington, USA

  • Michael H. Davis (IP Professor), Cleveland State University, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland, OH, USA.

  • Joost Smiers, Director of the Centre of Research, Utrecht School of the Arts, Utrecht, The Netherlands.

  • John Frow, Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh UK.

  • Andre Lucas ( IP Professor), University of Nantes, Nantes, France.

  • Ann Bartow ( IP Professor), Univ. of South Carolina School of Law , Columbia, SC, USA

  • Eben Moglen ( Professor of Law & Legal History) Columbia Law School, General Counsel, Free Software Foundation, New York, New York, USA.

  • Michael Mansfield QC (barrister, honorary president, the Critical Lawyers’ Group), London, UK.

  • Ray Patterson ( IP Professor), University of Georgia Law School, Athens, Georgia, USA

  • Svend Robinson ( Member of Parliament, House of Commons, Ottawa). British Columbia, Canada.

  • Peter Jaszi ( IP Professor) Washington College of Law, American University, Washington D.C., USA

  • Rod Dixon (visiting Professor of Law), Rutgers University Law School, Camden, New Jersey, USA

  • Miltos Manetas, visual artist, , Los Angeles, CA, USA.

  • Michael Ashburner ( Biology Professor), Dept. of Genetics, Cambridge University, Cambridge, UK.

  • Maryly Snow (visual artist & chair, Visual Resources Association Intellectual Property Rights Committee), Berkeley, Ca. USA.

  • Ram Samudrala (Computational biology (genomics and proteomics) professor), University of Washington, Seattle, Washington , USA

  • David Sorkin (Center for Information Technology and Privacy Law, The John Marshall Law School) Chicago, Illinois, USA

  • Brian Martin (Science, Technology & Society) University of Wollongong, Australia 

  • Deborah Halbert ( Political Science Professor), Otterbein College, Westerville, OH, USA


WIPO PRESS RELEASE (March 200l) -  The first ever World Intellectual Property Day takes place on 26 April 2001, the date in which the Convention establishing WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organisation) entered into force in 1970. WIPO member states decided at their last annual meeting to designate this date for special activities to highlight the importance and practical use of intellectual property in people's lives. As part of a series of events, WIPO has launched an international essay competition open to university students. The 2000 word essay must address the question "What does intellectual property mean to you in your daily life". It can be submitted in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian or Spanish. A prize of 1000 Swiss francs will be awarded for the best essay in each language. Entries must be sent to the WWA by December 1, 2001. The winners will be announced on World Intellectual Property Day next year, that is, on April 26, 2002.

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