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WIPO, Seigenthaler incident 15 years later

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By Smallbones and Tilman Bayer
A previous WIPO General Assembly meeting (2011)

Beijing blocks WMF from World Intellectual Property Organization, citing Wikimedia Taiwan

On September 23, at the general assembly meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva, Switzerland, the Chinese government's delegation blocked the Wikimedia Foundation from joining WIPO as an observer. The incident was reported by Quartz ("Beijing blocked Wikimedia from a UN agency because of 'Taiwan-related issues'") and news media in various other languages (for example, ZDNet France [1], Der Standard [2] and [3]).

As summarized by Quartz,

... the Beijing delegate said that China had “spotted a large amount of content and disinformation in violation of [the] ‘One China’ principle” on webpages affiliated with Wikimedia, thereby contravening established UN protocols and “the consistent position of WIPO on Taiwan-related issues.” The Beijing representative also suggested that Wikimedia Taiwan has been “carrying out political activities… which could undermine the state’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” [...] Beijing claims sovereignty over Taiwan, even though the ruling Communist Party has never controlled the country.

According to one eyewitness, Teresa Nobre of Communia,

This decision came as a shock to many observers of WIPO, since there has only been one case in recent memory where an observer status application to WIPO has not been accepted. In 2014, the Pirate Party International was rejected due to being a federation of political parties.

Beijing has long been known for its efforts to prevent Taiwan or Taiwanese organizations from participating in global associations (such as the World Health Organization, or, as a recent example, BirdLife International). However, excluding an international organization like WMF for such reasons seems highly unusual, with the US delegation pointing out "the established precedent at WIPO of supporting other existing observers and Member States that also have some affiliation with Taiwan. For example, the International Chamber of Commerce, the International Law Association, the Biotechnology Industry Organization ..."

Wikimedia Taiwan reacted with a statement emphasizing its status as an independent organization and its commitment to neutrality, stating "we fairly display all points of view of a controversial topic, not the point of view from any particular country or government". The Wikimedia Foundation urged China to withdraw its objection, which would enable the application to go through next year.

On the Publicpolicy mailing list, Sherwin Siy from the Wikimedia Foundation gave some background about its motivations for joining WIPO:

WIPO is where the world's countries gather to write the treaties that shape the laws that govern the world's knowledge. If you've ever complained about DRM laws being ubiquitous, you can blame lobbying that took place at WIPO; if you're glad for recent laws that make it easier for blind and visually impaired people to access books, you can thank lobbying that took place at WIPO, too.

Those treaties are negotiated among country delegations that typically sit in a big impressive room in Geneva. Meanwhile, hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) representing publishers, broadcaster, record labels, libraries, and civil society organizations sit at the back of the room, observing the negotiations as they happen and, in between official sessions, those groups hold side briefings, pass out position papers and white papers, and try to make sure that the negotiators don't forget about their particular interests.

We wanted to make sure that the Foundation could be a part of those conversations, as a way to bring more members of the community to WIPO, and make sure that our movement's interests don't get left behind.

Creative Commons (itself already an observer at WIPO) and Wikimedia Germany reacted with statements supporting the Wikimedia Foundation's application.

Like Communia ("It was particularly disappointing that the European Union and its Member States remained silent in the discussion") and former European Parliament member Julia Reda ("Shamefully, the EU kept silent"), the German chapter also criticized the lack of support from EU member states, in contrast to the reactions of the delegations from the US and the UK.

As noted by Quartz, the Chinese government's action should be seen in the context of its previous blocking of Wikipedia and more recent reports about conflicts over Taiwan-related content on Wikipedia (see Signpost coverage: "The BBC looks at Chinese government editing"). The English Wikipedia's decision some months ago to describe Taiwan as a country also comes to mind. That said, besides Wikimedia-specific aspects, it's also worth being aware of current geopolitical developments, with almost 40 Chinese warplanes crossing the previously respected Cross-Strait median on the weekend before the WIPO incident, and observers warning that a military invasion of Taiwan is becoming a more realistic possibility.

Seigenthaler incident 15 years later

Wikipedia falsely said I was convicted of attempted murder. I expected online abuse, but not this: The editing described by this article in the Seattle Times was done by a user who states that he is a teenager. He has also requested that he be indefinitely blocked and his request was granted. Fifteen years ago this month John Seigenthaler discovered that Wikipedia had suggested that he was involved with the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. There have been over a hundred discussions on Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons/Noticeboard involving the word "murder" since that time. We're still making the same type of mistake.

Both parties agree, curb Section 230

DOJ to Seek Congressional Curbs on Immunity for Internet Companies: (paywalled) The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Department of Justice is seeking to change the Section 230 protections for internet platforms. According to the WSJ, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act "gives internet platforms broad latitude to police their sites and shields them from legal liability related to users’ actions, except in relatively narrow circumstances." While the WSJ did not mention Wikipedia in the article, Wikipedians might still feel threatened. Section 230 is central to the way Wikipedia operates: it says that the WMF is not responsible for your edits. Back in July Digital Trends stated the case bluntly in If Section 230 gets killed, Wikipedia will die along with it. It quoted Sherwin Siy, the Wikimedia Foundation’s senior manager for public policy saying

[If we were to] live in a world where there is no Section 230 in the United States, that changes things drastically ... It makes it a very different landscape. You’d see a lot of platforms being much more hesitant to allow users to publish things without any vetting. It would expose, for example, the Wikimedia Foundation to a lot more potential liability. It actually would just be a punishing amount of risk.

Bills cosponsored by Republicans and Democrats have been proposed to modify section 230, and presidential candidate Joe Biden has proposed revoking it.

In brief

This raises the question of "why not just skip to step 5 right away, especially if you are going to ignore the COI guideline?"
In earlier attempts to encourage the never-ending quest for free advertisements on Wikipedia, Entrepreneur has published

Odd bits

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Oh, the images they granted were of subjects not related to the clock, seen here. But you could always add this or this, both excellent photos of the clock in question. ɱ (talk) 03:33, 28 September 2020 (UTC)[reply]
given current world trends, all jurisdictions are likely to beat least equally difficult. A society with a great emphasis on either personal privacy or government control will be inherently suspicious of the free exchange of knowledge. This applies even within WP--look at the complexities of how we now handle BLP: there are things known to be true and documented and relevant that cannot be said. We deal with the difficult situations by focusing on details of documentation and degree of relevance, in order to compromise sufficiently to avoid provocation. I personally regret the degree to which we compromise now, but I suspect we could compromise further, without losing the character of an encyclopedia. DGG ( talk ) 09:32, 28 September 2020 (UTC)[reply]
Beijing is presumably referring to advocacy for Taiwanese independence here. In the linked statement, the chapter seems to strongly reject this, alluding to the NPOV principle ("we fairly display all points of view of a controversial topic, not the point of view from any particular country or government"). Regards, HaeB (talk) 06:43, 7 October 2020 (UTC)[reply]

On the application of the Wikimedia Foundation specifically we see that this international NGO is similar to many other NGOs who have views on Copyright related issues and who have already been accepted as WIPO observers. This applicant has already demonstrated its interest in the field of IP and its organization’s link to WIPO’s work, for example, they submitted input to the WIPO AI and IP call for public input. They use the WIPO arbitration and mediation services frequently. Observers are meant to enrich debates and bring views that link to and support the activities and objectives of WIPO. We have no information that would lead us to believe that the applicants would not be able to contribute to our consultations and debates about current IP issues. Therefore, Mr. Chair, we would urge approval of the organizations listed in A/61/3 at this session. However, there is a agreement to simply defer, we will accept that approach. I would say that evaluating an international NGO’s credentials for observer status in WIPO is not a One-China issue. The Wikimedia Foundation's participation does not raise any questions about the political status of any other Member States allowing the Wikimedia Foundation to participate as an observer would be entirely consistent with the established precedent at WIPO of supporting other existing observers and Member States that also have some affiliation with Taiwan.

I'm starting to find it disconcerting that the WMF is being discussed like this at major international fora, let alone becoming part of them. --Yair rand (talk) 17:33, 1 October 2020 (UTC)[reply]
What do you find disconcerting about it?
By the way, for illustration of the "they use the WIPO arbitration and mediation services frequently" bit, see e.g. this Signpost piece I wrote back in 2009.
Regards, HaeB (talk) 06:43, 7 October 2020 (UTC)[reply]
UPDATE: 'Seigenthaler incident 15 years later' - Despite indicating their (and their parents') desire for them to no longer contribute on Wikipedia, and being indefinitely blocked, the individual at the centre of this particular incident has since twice tried to create accounts and to edit articles again. These WP:SOCKPUPPETS have been blocked, but they may try again. We need to remain more vigilant and be more proactive in not tolerating uncited BLP statements in any articles. The impact for the subjects involved, as well as on Wikipedia's reputation, can be disastrous.  Nick Moyes (talk) 11:20, 5 October 2020 (UTC)  [reply]


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