Montana Model United Nations 2001
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World Intellectual Property Organization


Internet Jurisdiction and Intellectual Property

Internet usage is increasing throughout the world. Citizens of countries that previously had no online access, are now fully participatory members of the Internet. Working parallel to the international expansion of the Internet is the improvement of media sharing technology.

Centralized media sharing servers like Napster are being replaced by peer-to-peer networks like Gnutella and Freenet that, more often then not, transcend national boundaries themselves.

What may seem like an innocuous way to share music with friends has groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) saying that they are being robbed of their intellectual property. So just what is intellectual property anyway?

Defining Intellectual Property

Simply stated, intellectual property (often referred to as "IP") is a way of assigning property ownership of non-tangible things such as a creative work or a design concept.

There are three methods for establishing ownership of IP. Which method to use depends somewhat on the nature of the property.

The first IP mechanism is the patent system. Most countries have some mechanism for claiming patents. Patents are short-term exclusivity rights given to inventors. The rationale is that if an inventor designs some new widget, she should be given a period of time in which she can sell her invention without competitors selling widgets made with her design.

Patents can either be narrowly defined or broadly defined. Usually, inventors prefer broadly defined patents. If a patent is very narrowly defined, then it is easy to slightly modify an existing invention and claim originality under patent law. If a patent is very broadly defined then it is difficult for competitors to even make a similar product.

The second system for IP is the copyright system. The copyright system generally covers creative works such as a book or a piece of music. The breadth of coverage is limited with copyright to the creative work itself. For example, if an author writes a book about underwater basket weaving, he can expect that his book is covered by copyright. He cannot, however, take action if another author writes another book about the same topic.

Standard duration of copyrights is generally held to 50 years past the death of the creator.

The final mechanism for establishing intellectual property is trademark. Trademark simply covers unique identification of a product or company. The quintessential example of a trademark is Nike's "swoosh" logo. For example it would be legal for another company to make a pair of tennis shoes (unless Nike had a patent) but it would not be legal for them to place a swoosh on the shoe.

Global Implications of Intellectual Property

Much of the stickiness surrounding IP stems from differing ideals on how IP should be applied. Developed nations, for the most part, expend more resource developing IP than developing nations do. For this reason, developed nations tend to be more rigorous in trying to enforce their IP claims.

On the other side of the coin, developing nations may not be able to afford new technologies or the investment in developing IP. These developing nations worry that there is a growing divide between rich and poor nations in respect to IP.

For example, a developing nation may feel that if a life-saving drug has been created, and they can produce it themselves, they should have the right to without having to pay large royalties to foreign pharmaceutical companies.

Movie, music and software are currently among the most commonly distributed IP on the Internet, but debate should be more inclusive and address the nature of IP and its travel across national boundaries via the Internet.


As distribution becomes less of a barrier to IP, the global community will face more frequent and difficult questions surrounding Intellectual Property. Ideally there would be a way to provide incentive for inventors and content creators to continue innovation, while not widening the chasm between wealthy and poor countries.

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