Policy brief

The Right to Share: Principles on Freedom of Expression and Copyright in the Digital Age

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25 Apr 2013


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These Principles seek to establish a framework which can be used to ensure firstly, that the right to freedom of expression and the ability to share knowledge and culture are fully protected in the digital age; and secondly, that copyright interests do not unduly restrict them. The Principles also seek to promote positive measures which foster both the free flow of information and ideas and greater access to knowledge and culture on the Internet and beyond.

The Principles were developed as a result of concerns that the fundamental human right to freedom of expression, guaranteed in UN and regional human rights instruments and nearly every national constitution, has been increasingly eroded on the grounds of protecting copyright. The Internet has been at the centre of an alarming expansion of copyright claims at the expense of freedom of expression and, more generally, the protection of human rights. These Principles affirm that the right to freedom of expression and the free flow of information and ideas cannot be seen as marginal to such developments.

Freedom of expression – that is, the freedom of all people to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds - is the foundation of diversity within cultural expression, creativity and innovation. It is, therefore, an essential part of the right to participate freely in the cultural life of society, enjoying the arts and sharing in scientific advancement: the very benefits that copyright exists to promote.

The Internet has radically changed the way in which people exchange information and ideas. It has also presented serious challenges to the way in which copyright and related rights have traditionally been enforced: copies can be made available across borders on an unprecedented scale and at minimal cost. Copyright laws need to adapt to keep pace with digital technology; they need to adapt to consumer demand and cultural practices in this global economy built on ideas and innovation. People have a legitimate expectation that their fundamental right to receive and impart information and ideas will be fostered rather than restrained by copyright.

As we show in these Principles, international law provides a basis for resolving these issues. The Principles we set out here offer a progressive interpretation of international law and of best practice in individual States, as reflected, inter alia, in national laws and the judgments of national courts.