New Technologies, Social Knowledge and Intellectual Property Law

A Sarai/CSDS (Delhi) and Hivos (Bangalore) Workshop, ” Intellectual Property, Social Knowledge and Conflict” was organised in collaboration with Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore) between 20-21 November 2003, as part of the ALF-SARAI Collaboration on “Intellectual Property and the Knowledge / Culture Commons”.

The central thematic of the workshop was the examination of the new configurations/relationships that are converging around knowledge practices, the possibilities of new forms and architectures of knowledge, and what they enable in terms of understanding the older and more classical forms of property relations. Newer forms of knowledge production and sharing, in the open source (OS) movement, have inspired a number of innovative projects in other domains of cultural production, for instance in the world of the arts/creativity. The OS movement hinges upon the ideological claim that it is possible to build on an architecture of knowledge which is more democratic, collaborative and more generally accessible.

It is crucial to interrogate the new conflicts over the regulation of information, as the production of knowledge and cultural materials increases in scope and application. This conflict has widened to include new geographical spaces, particularly India, China, Brazil and South Africa. Moreover, a range of new problems, including the expansion of intellectual property (IP) protection to all spheres of social life, has intensified the nature of the conflict. Here it is important to recognise that the tensions are configured differently as we move from the US and Europe to social landscapes marked by sharp inequalities, in Asia, Latin America and Africa. There is an urgent need to scrutinise the ideological persuasions, cultural dynamics, political economics and legal grids that constitute the current debate on intellectual property rights.

The primary concern of the workshop was the relationship between social practice, social conflicts and social inequalities, and the manner in which these are worked out in the new regime of knowledge/property, with its emphasis on exclusive rights and protections. This process is taking place at the global level and no population has remained unaffected. What legal regimes are regulating this process of exclusion and domination? How can these regimes be confronted?