Hobgoblin Journal

The Hobgoblin 7 (Online) 2005-6


Global Trading of Libraries and Intellectual Property Rights

By Ruth Rikowski
I have just completed writing a book. It is on globalisation and considers four main aspects of it – globalisation itself, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). In particular, it focuses on the implications of the WTO’s GATS and TRIPS agreements for libraries and information.

As we all well aware, the WTO is basically endeavouring to create a world order for trade. The argument is that global capitalist institutions, such as the WTO, prevents anarchy from surfacing, as it establishes a global framework for trade between its members. Furthermore, that we are now one big happy ‘global family’ all living together in a wonderful global capitalist world, which is based on the market, free trade, commodification and competition. This is tied up with the notion of ‘TINA’ – There Is No Alternative - the philosophy that preaches that capitalism might have its faults, but it is the best possible social system that we can possibly have, so we just need to find ways to get it to work more effectively. The WTO is seen to provide one such mechanism. Clare Short, who at the time was the International Development Secretary, articulates this view, saying that:

‘Globalisation is here to stay; the political challenge is to manage it well’. (Short, 2001, p.17)

I find it a very bizarre way of thinking. We can use our intellect to travel in space, and to create complicated computer systems etc, but we cannot use our intellect to conceive of and work towards a better social, political and economic system. That instead, we have to live in a system that causes so much death and misery, it seems. This does not make any sense to me.

It is important to consider the meaning of globalisation itself. This is considered in my book along with an overview of the WTO, the GATS and TRIPS. There is also an examination of the GATS, libraries, information and cultural services within an international perspective. Those countries that have committed their library services to the GATS, under Sector 10C: Recreational, Cultural and Sporting Services of the GATS Schedule of Commitments are highlighted. The GATS Schedule of Commitments are complex, and libraries also fall under other sectors in the schedules, but Sector 10C is the main sector for libraries. There are now 18 countries that have committed their Library Services to the GATS, under Sector 10C. In 1995 there were only 13, so the liberalisation of trade in libraries is increasing. The countries that have so far committed are: Albania, Austria, Bolivia, Central African Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Gambia, Georgia, Hong Kong, Iceland, Japan, Jordan, Kyrgyz Republic, Lithuania, Sierra Leone, Singapore, USA and Venezuela.

As I also emphasis in my book, the GATS is having a real impact on libraries in the UK. I have also developed a framework for analysing the GATS and public services and this model can be applied for different public service sectors, such as education, health, social services and housing. In regard to the real-life examples for libraries in the UK these include, income generation, market research approaches to library users, micropayments, private companies running libraries and the Private Finance Initiative (PFI).
Public libraries have been generating income and making money from libraries from selling various items for quite some time now. This includes selling items such as bookmarks, postcards, pens and other memorabilia, (see Doehring for more information about income generation). On the other hand, micropayments are still a relatively new phenomena. Companies are seeking ways in which money can be made from transactions that are undertaken on the Internet, and micropayments provide a possible solution to this. There have been various problems with bringing in micropayments, such as security and trust (see Crocker, 1999), but many of these problems have now been solved. Thus, at some point in the future, libraries might well find themselves having to charge library users for undertaking transactions on the Internet (transactions that were previously free) (see for example, Oja Jay, 2000 and Worden, 1998).

In regard to private companies running libraries – this has already started happening in the UK. Instant Library Ltd ran the public library service in the London Borough of Haringey from 2001-2004. The library service has, for the time-being reverted back to the local authority, but it is quite possible that Instant Library Ltd, or another private company will take over the running of Haringey library service at some future date. Also, it provides an example that other local authorities could well follow, whereby private companies take over the running of other state-funded public library services.
Furthermore, there are many examples of where PFI is being implemented in libraries in the UK. In Bournemouth, for example, a new central library was built with PFI and Information and Computer Technology (ICT) facilities were provided across the whole branch network (see Sibthorpe, 2001). Other examples include Hackney Technology Learning Centre, which includes a new central library and museum that was built with PFI and Brighton, where a new central public library was built there through PFI.
Various library associations and library, information and cultural bodies internationally have showed concern and issued statements against the WTO and the GATS. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) says that:

‘There is growing evidence that WTO decisions, directly or indirectly, may adversely affect the operations and future development of library services, especially in the not-for-profit institutions.’ (IFLA, 2000, p.1, point 4)

Meanwhile, the UK Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) says in regard to the GATS that it:
‘…strongly urges the Government to continue with its present policy not to agree to any requests to extend the coverage and/or to remove the existing restrictions in the sub-sector ‘libraries, archives, museums and other cultural services’. And to make a commitment not to include this sub-sector in future negotiations. (CILIP, 2003, p.3)

Meanwhile, the TRIPS agreement is very complex. My book considers, in particular, TRIPS, copyright, patents, traditional knowledge (TK), information and libraries. What is deeply concerning, for example, is that large corporations often appropriate traditional knowledge from local, indigenous populations, in the developing world. Yet, these companies often do not give due recompense to the originators of this TK. TRIPS also threatens some of the key principles in the library and information profession, such as the aim to achieve a balance in copyright. As the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) says: ‘IFLA supports balanced copyright law that promotes the advancement of society as a whole bygiving support and effective protection for the interests of rightsholders as well as reasonabl access in order to encourage creativity, innovation, research, education and learning’. (IFLA, 2000, revised 2001, p.1)

However, moral rights for creators of works have been excluded from TRIPS, and the whole notion of balance does not play any meaningful part within TRIPS. Instead, TRIPS is fundamentally concerned with the trading of intellectual property rights. In the final chapters I place all these deliberations within an Open Marxist theoretical framework. The fundamental point is that public services and intellectual property rights are being transformed into international tradable commodities through the GATS and TRIPS. My argument is that value is increasingly being extracted from intellectual labour rather than manual labour. This value is then embedded in these international commodities, and traded in the market-place. Profits are derived from this value, and thus global capitalism is sustained. Thus, all the issues raised in this article need to be addressed quite urgently, I would suggest, if the wants and needs of people are to be put before profit. Let us look towards a better future and a brighter world.Ruth Rikowski, Globalisation, Information and Libraries: the Implications of the World Trade Organisation's GATS and TRIPS Agreements, Oxford 2005 ISBN- 1 84334 084 4 (pbk) £39.00; 1 84334 092 5 (hdbk) £59.95www.chandospublishing.com/catalogue/record_detail.php?recordID=35

(A BOOK LAUNCH is to held at LONDON SOUTH BANK UNIVERSITY TUESDAY, 26th April 2005, 5.30pm onwards. Keyworth Centre, Keyworth Street, Room 806/7 Introduced by Professor Deian Hopkin, Vice-Chancellor of London South Bank University REFRESHMENTS. Map for directions: www.lsbu.ac.uk/about/maps.shtml)References
BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) (2001) The WTO and the GATS: a transcript of BBC Radio 4 programme, You and Yours, 12.30 – 12.50pm, 17th October.
Available at:
http://www.wdm.org.uk/campaign/GATSyouandyours.htm and also at:
Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (UKCILIP) (2003) CILIP response to liberalising trade in services: a new consultation on the World Trade Organisation GATS negotiations, January. Available at:
Crocker, Steve (1999) The siren song of the Internet micropayments, April. Available at: http://www.cisp.org/imp/april-99/04-99/crocker.htm.
Doehring, Greg (und.) Increasing investment: income generation for survival or growth? Available at: http://www.lisa.wa.gov.au/pdf/Increasinginvestmentpdstratdir2002-07.pdf
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) (2000) (revised 2001) The IFLA position on copyright in the digital environment. Available at:
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) (2001) The IFLA position on WTO Treaty negotiations, Committee on Copyright and Other Legal Matters (CLM). Available at: http://www.ifla.org/III/clm/p1/wto-ifla.htm
Oja Jay, Dnu (2000) Rethinking micropayments. Available at:
Rikowski, Glenn (2001) The Battle in Seattle: Its Significance for Education, London: Tufnell Press
Rikowski, Ruth (2001) GATS: private affluence and public squalor? Implications for libraries and information, Managing Information, December, Vol. 8, No. 10, pp.8-10
Available at: http://www.libr.org/Juice/issues/vol4/LJ_4.46.htm#7 and at
Rikowski, Ruth (2002a) The capitalisation of Libraries, The Commoner, a left-academic activist e-journal. May, No. 14. Available at: http://www.commoner.org.uk
Rikowski, Ruth (2002b) The WTO, the GATS and the meaning of ‘services’, Public Library Journal, Summer, Vol.17, No. 2, pp.48-50
Rikowski, Ruth (2002c) Takeover by stealth? Public Library Journal, Autumn, Vol. 17, No.3, pp.73-76
Rikowski, Ruth (2002d) Globalisation and Libraries, in Globalisation, Report by House of Lords, Select Committee on Economic Affairs, Session 2002-03, 1st Report, London: Stationery Office, in ‘Volume of Evidence’, part 2, HL5-II – on CD ROM, pp. 360-371
Rikowski, Ruth (2004) On the impossibility of determining the length of the working-day for intellectual labour, Information for Social Change, Summer 2004, No. 19.
Available at: http://www.libr.org/ISC
Short, Clare (2001) Making globalisation work for poor people, Education International, July, Vol. 7, No. 2, p.17
Sibthorpe, Richard (2001) A new path to follow – Private Finance Initiative, Library Association Record, April, Vol 103, No. 4, pp. 236-237
Worden, Scott (1998) Micropayments and the future of the web. Harvard University, USA. Available at: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/fallsem98/final_papers/worden.html
See also the GATS and public libraries website at: http://libr.org/GATS and
Information for Social Change (ISC) website at: http://libr.org/ISC
ISC includes various articles on the GATS and a special issue that was edited by Ruth Rikowsksi on ‘Globalisation and Information’, 2001/02