What are the basic principles that should guide us on intellectual property rights?

The protection of intellectual property is a topic of intense passion among designers, both among those seeking to protect their own creations and those wishing to use creative works that they presume to be in the public domain. Intellectual property law is always a balancing act between how to encourage the sharing of knowledge and how to encourage innovation. When it is applied to design in an era that encourages co-creation—in which “open source” is often confused with an “open sesame” to others' creativity, and where popular culture has so many visual manifestations—the conflicts can be dramatic.

At times AIGA will take a position on intellectual property law, both in legislation and on regulations. However, it is important to provide a set of principles that guide the positions we take. We are proposing to use the Adelphi Charter, developed by a team of legal experts convened by the RSA, in Britain, as the core beliefs guiding AIGA's stance on intellectual property law; obviously, our positions become very specific in how the balance articulated in the charter can be adapted to the interests of the designer.

We welcome your comments on this framework of principles. Here is the charter, in its entirety:

The Adelphi Charter on Creativity, Innovation and Intellectual Property

Humanity's capacity to generate new ideas and knowledge is its greatest asset. It is the source of art, science, innovation and economic development. Without it, individuals and societies stagnate.

This creative imagination requires access to the ideas, learning and culture of others, past and present. Human rights call on us to ensure that everyone can create, access, use and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and societies to achieve their full potential.

Creativity and investment should be recognized and rewarded. The purpose of intellectual property law (such as copyright and patents) should be, now as it was in the past, to ensure both the sharing of knowledge and the rewarding of innovation.

The expansion in the law's breadth, scope and term over the last 30 years has resulted in an intellectual property regime which is radically out of line with modern technological, economic and social trends. This threatens the chain of creativity and innovation on which we and future generations depend.

We call upon governments and the international community to adopt these principles:

  1. Laws regulating intellectual property must serve as means of achieving creative, social and economic ends and not as ends in themselves.
  2. These laws and regulations must serve, and never overturn, the basic human rights to health, education, employment and cultural life.
  3. The public interest requires a balance between the public domain and private rights. It also requires a balance between the free competition that is essential for economic vitality and the monopoly rights granted by intellectual property laws.
  4. Intellectual property protection must not be extended to abstract ideas, facts or data.
  5. Patents must not be extended over mathematical models, scientific theories, computer code, methods for teaching, business processes, methods of medical diagnosis, therapy or surgery.
  6. Copyright and patents must be limited in time and their terms must not extend beyond what is proportionate and necessary.
  7. Government must facilitate a wide range of policies to stimulate access and innovation, including non-proprietary models such as open source software licensing and open access to scientific literature.
  8. Intellectual property laws must take account of developing countries' social and economic circumstances.

In making decisions about intellectual property law, governments should adhere to these rules:

  • There must be an automatic presumption against creating new areas of intellectual property protection, extending existing privileges or extending the duration of rights.
  • The burden of proof in such cases must lie on the advocates of change.
  • Change must be allowed only if a rigorous analysis clearly demonstrates that it will promote people's basic rights and economic well-being.

Please contribute your feedback on the terms of the charter by adding a comment. AIGA will be gathering input until September 15 and will develop its own version of the framework in late 2010. 

About the Author: Richard Grefé is the director emeritus of AIGA, the professional association for design, the oldest and largest professional association of designers in the United States representing the interests of 27,000 designers working in a variety of communication media and dimensions, ranging from type and book designers to new media and experience designers. AIGA, o ver twenty years under Ric’s aegis, has become a leading advocate for the value of designing, as a way of thinking and as a means of creating strategic value for business, the civic realm and social change. Currently he is teaching “Human-centered designn for social change” at Wesleyan University. Ric earned a BA from Dartmouth College in economics, worked in intelligence in Asia, reported from the Bronx County Courthouse for AP, wrote for Time magazine on business and the economy and then earned an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. Following an early career in urban design and public policy consulting, Ric managed the association responsible for strategic planning and legislative advocacy for public television and led a think tank on the future of public television and radio in Washington.