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Seven Wikimedia chapters rejected as permanent observers to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

Front view of the WIPO Conference Hall

Geneva, Switzerland — Today, seven Wikimedia chapters—independent Wikimedia movement affiliate organizations—were rejected from gaining accreditation as permanent observers to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Several of WIPO’s accredited observers, including Communia, Creative Commons, Education International, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, as well as organizations such as Internet Archive, showed their support for the accreditation of the chapters and called on WIPO members to facilitate their admission to the organization. 

WIPO is the specialized United Nations (UN) agency that determines global policies on copyright, patents, and trademarks. Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects rely on open, flexible copyright policies to ensure knowledge can be accessed and shared freely across its platforms. 

The Wikimedia chapters of Argentina, France, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Sweden, and Switzerland applied as permanent observers to WIPO, and their applications were denied during WIPO’s General Assembly meeting. 

“Wikimedia chapters have significant expertise in copyright policy in their countries. Their presence at WIPO would help ensure that the future of copyright truly reflects the global and diverse needs of the internet,” said Amanda Keton, General Counsel of the Wikimedia Foundation. “The support that they have been shown by fellow civil society groups is a testament to the critical value they would bring to WIPO.” 

China was the only country to oppose the Wikimedia chapters’ request for observer status, again, claiming that chapters were complicit in spreading disinformation and are subsidiaries of the Wikimedia Foundation. These statements are unfounded and misrepresent Wikipedia’s model which prioritizes accuracy, neutrality, as well as the fact that the chapters are completely autonomous. 

In May 2022, China denied ad hoc observer status to six Wikimedia chapters to the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), the body responsible for shaping the future of global copyright policy. In the recent July meeting of the General Assembly of WIPO, several chapters applied once again for access to participate in WIPO, this time requesting permanent observer status to participate not just in SCCR meetings, but in all forums, events, and meetings of the international body. Their accreditation was again rejected. China has also objected to the application of the Wikimedia Foundation twice for observer status, first in 2020, and again in 2021. 

China’s objection is unprecedented in WIPO discussions and contradicts WIPO Rules of Procedure. One country generally cannot veto participation of civil society groups in WIPO. The 2022 General Assembly has shown that WIPO is not under any obligation to make decisions by consensus in all cases.

“When the decision-making power of the General Assembly is left in the hands of a single country and without regard to the WIPO’s admission criteria, this sets a worrying precedent for the institution,” said Keton.

The Wikimedia Foundation is the nonprofit that supports Wikipedia, Wikimedia projects, and the movement’s free knowledge mission on a global scale. Wikimedia chapters are independent, nonprofit organizations which support and promote Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects in a specific geographic location. While the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia chapters collaborate in our shared free knowledge mission, each organization is governed and operates independently with its own bylaws, board of directors, and organization plan.

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