Not so long ago, the language of “intellectual property” (IP) was the only serious way of talking about creative works and inventions. Copyright and patents provided the default framework for explaining how someone’s bright idea grew into a marketable product, and how that in turn contributed to economic growth and human progress. It was a neat, tidy, reassuring story. It had an irresistible simplicity – and the endorsement of the ultimate authority, government.
And then…. the pluriversal realities of life came storming the citadel gates! Over the past fifteen or twenty years, the monoculture narrative of IP has been attacked by indigenous cultures, seed activists, healthcare experts, advocates for the poor, the academy, and especially users of digital technologies. It has become increasingly clear that the standard IP story, whatever its merits on a smaller scale, in competitive industries, is mostly a self-serving, protectionist weapon in the hands of Hollywood, record labels, book publishers, Big Pharma and other multinational IP industries.
We can thank the authors of a new anthology for helping to explain how the standard IP narrative is profoundly flawed, and how an array of challengers are showing how knowledge-creation so often emerges through social commons.
Free Knowledge: Confronting the Commodification of Human Discovery, edited by Patricia W. Elliott and Daryl H. Hepting, provides a refreshing survey of the many realms in which corporations are enclosing shared knowledge -- and a sampling of commons that are democratizing the production and control of knowledge. (The book is published by University of Regina Press, and is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.)