Joff Wild

It is a matter of fact that James Pooley – the soon-to-depart Deputy Director of the World Intellectual Property Organisation – has filed what is termed a Report of Misconduct relating to the organisation’s Director-General Francis Gurry. Blog writers have to be very careful what they write about this, so to get more detail on what Pooley has alleged the best place to go is this report on the Fox News website that was published on 4th April.

I say that blog reporters have to be careful because Gene Quinn, who runs the widely read IP Watchdog blog site, was threatened with legal action by WIPO after linking to Pooley’s report and his accompanying evidentiary exhibits in a piece that was posted in early April. Quinn subsequently deleted the entire blog, but did display the letter he received from WIPO’s legal counsel Edward Kwakwa.

Among other things, Kwakwa’s letter states that Pooley’s “Report and its exhibits or annexes constitute defamatory material which, inter alia, suggest corruption, concern DNA allegations, and are a republication of rehashed allegations.” It continues: “In addition, I should like to remind you that under Swiss law, the publication of such false and defamatory material could constitute a criminal offence.”

The letter finishes:

We hereby request that you immediately remove the Report and all its exhibits or annexes from the website.

We hereby further request that you publish an apology to the Director General of WIPO for the publication of false and defamatory material on the website.

Please be informed that if this request is not immediately acceded to, the Director General and WIPO will seek independent legal advise to bring defamation proceedings against you in any competent jurisdiction.

As a journalist I find this utterly outrageous. I hope that other people do too. Quinn was not threatened with legal action for any allegations that he made, or for the slant on the story that he wrote around Pooley’s report and exhibits. Instead, he was threatened with legal action for providing a link to them.

Let’s remember, Pooley is Deputy Director of WIPO, he works with and reports to Gurry, and he has made very serious allegations. If that is not newsworthy, I do not know what is.  Furthermore, as far as I know, these allegations have not been withdrawn – and certainly had not been when Kwakwa wrote the letter - neither has any investigation of them been reported, let alone concluded. Yet Kwakwa, WIPO’s legal counsel, has declared them “false and defamatory”. How does he know?

IAM contacted the WIPO press office to see if anyone from the organisation would explain to us why the letter was written. We received this response: “The WIPO Legal Counsel requested that Mr. Quinn remove the Report and its exhibits due to their defamatory nature. As stated in his most recent post, Mr. Quinn decided to remove the entire story. We have no further comment on the matter.” Looking at the letter Quinn received, I do not see a request, I see intimidation and threat; an attempt, in other words, to make a story that is undoubtedly very discomfiting for Gurry and others at WIPO go away.

I have read the Pooley report and I have seen the exhibitory material he supplied alongside it. The allegations he makes are based on recorded fact and, as he acknowledges, hearsay. Pooley could be wrong. He might be driven by personal animus. Perhaps he is part of a group that has decided it wants to get rid of Gurry by fair means or foul. But, the report was filed. And, because of who Pooley is, that is news which Quinn had every right to cover in as much detail as possible – including letting people see the report itself.

Now, of course, it could well be that under Swiss law Quinn might face criminal action, but he would only do so if Gurry and WIPO decided to initiate it. It’s their choice to make. And, of course, Quinn would only find out how strong the case is by at least taking legal advice and perhaps by fighting it through the courts – something that costs a lot of money (which is why, with great regret, I have decided not to link to what Pooley wrote). So you can understand why Quinn decided the simplest course was to delete the blog and the links. People will draw their own conclusions as to why Gurry and WIPO have done what they did. But for me it stinks.

Happy World IP Day.