Access to Knowledge in the Age of Intellectual Property
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At the end of the twentieth century, intellectual property rights collided with everyday life. Expansive copyright laws and digital rights management technologies sought to shut down new forms of copying and remixing made possible by the Internet. International laws expanding patent rights threatened the lives of millions of people around the world living with HIV/AIDS by limiting their access to cheap generic medicines. For decades, governments have tightened the grip of intellectual property law at the bidding of information industries; but recently, groups have emerged around the world to challenge this wave of enclosure with a new counter-politics of "access to knowledge" or "A2K." They include software programmers who took to the streets to defeat software patents in Europe, AIDS activists who forced multinational pharmaceutical companies to permit copies of their medicines to be sold in poor countries, subsistence farmers defending their rights to food security or access to agricultural biotechnology, and college students who created a new "free culture" movement to defend the digital commons. Access to Knowledge in the Age of Intellectual Property maps this emerging field of activism as a series of historical moments, strategies, and concepts. It gathers some of the most important thinkers and advocates in the field to make the stakes and strategies at play in this new domain visible and the terms of intellectual property law intelligible in their political implications around the world. A Creative Commons edition of this work will be freely available online.
singularities, and diverse priorities or choices normally occurs in favor of the vision of those within a movement who enjoy certain advantages, whether by speaking a dominant language, having a higher level of education, associating with upper-class social networks, or possessing greater financial resources. But although the consequences of such power relations are by no means absent within the A2K, so far, this has not seemed to affect the apparent cohesion of the movement.35 So far, the A2K
essay, “Toward a Conceptual Genealogy of Access to Knowledge.” Rather, I will conclude here by exploring what is at stake in the maintenance and reproduction of the representations and social values that underwrite the effort to preserve and extend intellectual property restrictions and in the A2K movement’s efforts to disrupt those representations and appeal to other values. The conversion into privately owned goods of goods and ideas that once constituted property held in common or that were
gone viral, turning up around the world in domains as diverse as software, agriculture, medicine, and music. Activist efforts to challenge the contours of intellectual property law are increasingly interconnected and gathered (especially globally) under the call for “access to knowledge” or “A2K.”3 A2K is a mobilization very much in process— it hasn’t yet been subject to the kind of histories or hagiographies that would render one description or account of it authoritative. Rather than provide
developed countries and the private sector insisted that intellectual property protection is “essential in the Information Society” and that “existing IP regimes and international agreements should continuously provide this protection . . . thus promoting the necessary balance between owners and users of IP.”31 On the contrary, developing countries and many NGOs stressed that the continuous expansion in intellectual property protection could negatively affect creativity and the dissemination of
presentations by different parties reflecting different views on the issue of pharmaceutical patenting, but this time with a blue cover. Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, who had just been elected director general of the WHO, did not yield to the pressures and instead organized a meeting at which she invited a number of parties to express their views. She also dealt with the criticisms that the book held inaccurate information by inviting external reviews. The reviewers found very little wrong with the