I'm participating in an online reading list at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University on the History of Intellectual Property in the US. I found this, our first assignment extremely interesting. Hesse describes debates in the 18th century about whether ideas, formally thought of as "divine intervention", should become individual property and how society could balance this with the goal of spreading knowledge in the public interest.
Most interesting was the fact that later in the nineteenth century, when the US had been ignoring intellectual property rights internationally on the basis of it being a "developing nation", a native culture movement grew up, lobbying government to protect local authors from the proliferation of cheap, foreign works by adopting international agreements such as the Berne Convention that had been signed by other countries previously. Apparantly these groups were ignored until the growing publishing houses in the US saw the benefit of adopting international agreements in order to grow their markets abroad.
This debate has strong parallels to South Africa and the local content quota movement that is trying to persuade the SA government to adopt more stringent local content quotas. One example is the South African Music Quota Coalition.
Sometimes I worry that more free content from the US and the West won't do much for the local culture industries, which really need to be developed at this stage in our history. On the other hand, if the content (music, video, literary works specifically) is made available so that we can rip, mix and burn it to suit our own tastes and cultural ideals, the equation becomes more favorable to local development. The interactive, dialogical context in which the work is presented is essential to its sustainable uptake in the local economy.
In other words, give it to me as something that I can shape into my own, or don't give it to me at all. Creative Commons' sampling license is a brilliant example - the idea came perfectly from Brazil.
I dreamed about Creative Commons South Africa last night. I was back in SA trying to persuade friends to become members. They would pay a small yearly fee and get all sorts of cool free SA culture in return. This is really becoming an obsession :)
I found the abstract for Volker Grassmuck's discussion of the '3 models of free knowledge' from Idlelo. He describes them as follows:
'* Public Domain Knowledge; in the technical legal sense: knowledge not or not any longer protected by IPRs, knowledge that belongs to everyone.
* Public Knowledge; paid for by taxes, public broadcast fees and other mandatory contributions. Science at public universities and public broadcasts are important examples, and the Open Access Archives movement in science and the recent decision by the BBC to make its archives freely accessible on the Internet are moves to reclaim the publicness of these resources.
* Commons Knowledge; in the strict sense: the property of a community of creators. Prime examples here are the free software communities that regulate their boundaries with the help of licences, the GNU General Public License (GPL) being the prime example. The free online encyclopedia Wikipedia is the most powerful current demonstration that the free software model is applicable to other forms of knowledge as well.'
I'm really interested in another distinction based on South Africa's Freedom of Information Act where 'information in the public interest' is made accessible - even if it is held by private institutions. The South African History Archives (an independent institution) would be an example of this - as well as a number of other NGOs and independent bodies that have taken over government's traditional responsibilities. The way I see it, another big problem, especially in the developing world, is that the body of public knowledge (paid for by taxes) is becoming smaller and smaller as governments increasingly privatise services or are simply not able to efficiently service the population resulting in a proliferation of NGOs and non-profits taking over their roles. Surely regulation should start to emcompass accessibility to knowledge that falls outside the traditional definition of 'government information'? Surely?
I just went to a talk by Erik Valgaeren, a Brussels lawyer, on the new European Union directive (2003/98) on harmonizing public sector information. as part of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society's lecture series. The directive aims to facilitate the re-use, rather than access, by both private and public sector bodies to public sector information. Apparently governments throughout Europe have had different laws defining public sector information and under what conditions that information may be accessed. According to the definition in the directive, public sector information is defined as information produced by the government. What I find interesting is how information that may be useful to the public, may not necessarily fall within this definition, and will therefore not be as accessible. One example is information held by private bodies that have taken over the tasks that governments used to fulfill (weather agencies etc). Another is the example of information held by non-governmental organisations - such as the South African History Archives - that may be realy useful if publicly available, but may not necessarily fall within the official definition of public domain materials.
I met Joi Ito, weblogger extroadinaire, today. Joi lives and works in Tokyo - and pretty recently started a venture capital company called Neoteny which, in fact, funds the weblog platform (Typepad) that I use for this blog :) Joi wants to work on African blogging projects which is very exciting indeed - there is a growing team of people who think it's a good idea - we both think that it will at least be a good experiment. I read about Joi's history here and felt better that he didn't always have the direction and drive that he has today.
(She sighs with relief and reaches over for another sip from the Chivas bottle.)
My friend, Adam, sent me this great post on the localisation of open source software, including a project in Rwanda to translate OpenOffice into Kinyarwanda, the language spoken by most Rwandans. After discovering that Kinyarwanda has no word for "computer", the group settled on "mudasobwa," which roughly translates to "something or someone that does not make mistakes." I can't say that I would agree - but it's a great article nonetheless.
H, the new snowboarding champion of the universe, is back from Tahoe with only one lonely bruise on her neat behind. She had the best Valentine's Day ever - nil x pining, nil x false love joy, nil x sad for no secret admirers. For H, it was play time fantastique. She also learned how much she loves watching basketball and cuddling small, love-sponge doggies named Bonsai.