Trade Versus Culture in the Digital Environment : An Old Conflict in Need of a New Definition

Burri, Mira (2009). Trade Versus Culture in the Digital Environment : An Old Conflict in Need of a New Definition. Journal of international economic law, 12(1), pp. 17-62. Oxford University Press 10.1093/jiel/jgn038

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Following the recent UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, the first wave of scholarly work has focused on clarifying the interface between the Convention and the WTO Agreements. Building upon these analyses, the present article takes however a different stance. It seeks a new, rather pragmatic definition of the relationship between trade and culture and argues that such a re-definition is particularly needed in the digital networked environment that has modified the ways markets for cultural content function and the ways in which cultural content is created, distributed and accessed. The article explores first the significance of the UNESCO Convention (or the lack thereof) and subsequently outlines a variety of ways in which the WTO framework can be improved in a ‘neutral’, not necessarily culturally motivated, manner to become more conducive to the pursuit of cultural diversity and taking into account the changed reality of digital media. The article also looks at other facets of the profoundly fragmented culture-related regulatory framework and underscores the critical importance of intellectual property rights and of other domains that appear at first sight peripheral to the trade and culture discussion, such as access to infrastructure, interoperability or net neutrality. It is argued that a number of feasible solutions exist beyond the politically charged confrontation of trade versus culture and that the new digital media landscape may require a readjustment of the priorities and the tools for the achievement of the widely accepted objective of cultural diversity.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


02 Faculty of Law > Department of Economic Law > World Trade Institute
10 Strategic Research Centers > World Trade Institute

02 Faculty of Law > Department of Economic Law > NCCR International Trade Regulation
02 Faculty of Law > Department of Economic Law > Institute of European and International Economic Law

UniBE Contributor:

Burri, Mira


300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 340 Law




Oxford University Press




Tihomira Burri

Date Deposited:

25 Aug 2014 17:22

Last Modified:

31 May 2017 10:53

Publisher DOI:





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