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China rejects Wikimedia from important UN body

Many international organisations have made commitments to improve transparency and civil society participation. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) apparently continues to see things differently. On Monday, six Wikimedia chapters were denied observer status at the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights.

No surprises

The decision did not come as a complete surprise. China had already vetoed the Wikimedia Foundation’s accreditation in 2020 and 2021. Now the People’s Republic also opposed recognition of the independent Wikimedia chapters from France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Sweden, and Switzerland. Since WIPO generally operates by consensus, China’s vote against was enough to block the applications.

The Wikimedia movement, which is the movement behind Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia platforms, is an important global actor for the dissemination of knowledge to mankind. Wikipedia, to give one example, hosts one of the largest collections of knowledge in human history. Knowledge that is freely accessible for us all.

This work is heavily affected by global conversations around copyright and related rights. Copyright law has a significant impact on the ability of hundreds of thousands of Wikimedia volunteers to do their work and contribute to Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. 

For this reason, the six Wikimedia affiliates had applied to become observers at the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights of the WIPO, one of the most important global forums for copyright rulemaking.

The Wikimedia movement is asking to participate in these negotiations. Wikimedia is uniquely positioned to contribute to discussions which are aimed at modernizing copyright to a digital, globally connected era.

unfounded claims about disinformation

Unfortunately, China has chosen to politicise WIPO, claiming that Wikimedia chapters are complicit in spreading disinformation.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The hundreds of thousands of volunteers across the globe draw on independent sources to provide verifiable, reliable information. In fact, the entire Wikipedia model constitutes a bulwark against faulty information. Wikimedia chapters support the communities, but would never influence the content of Wikimedia projects.

The impact of the decision is that one of the most important enablers of access to knowledge are excluded from taking part in conversations around the regimes that make this enabling possible. It also sets a dangerous precedent, in which countries may prevent any stakeholder that they disagree with from becoming an observer to WIPO. 

It also means that this important forum for technical conversations is being politicised by an authoritarian regime. There are fewer and fewer spaces in the international system where dialogue is possible. If democratic countries do not oppose the exclusion of civil society, this will have a significant impact for work at the UN.

Wikimedia urges European governments, and representatives of the EU institutions, to speak out. This pattern must be reversed. A number of Wikimedia chapters have also applied for observer status to the WIPO General Assembly. European countries need to take a stand. Otherwise, we might see a new dangerous trend for the involvement of civil society in global conversations, in more areas than only copyright.

Justus Dreyling

Advisor International Regulation, Wikimedia Deutschland

Eric Luth

Project Manager for Advocacy and Involvement, Wikimedia Sverige 

Naphsica Papanicolaou

Public Affairs manager, Wikimedia France

Iolanda Pensa 

Chair, Wikimedia Italia

Jenny Ebermann

Executive Director, Wikimedia CH