Tagged: a2k

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A2K Challenges Ahead

Reflecting on the book and thinking about the future, I am struck by two major challenges for the A2K movement:  the building of new synapses of communication and collaboration among the many fractal parts of the movement, and reducing the gap between A2K expert-practitioners and the general public and key user-constituencies.  The latter are often clueless about the practical political and policy issues at stake, yet their support is critical to moving an A2K agenda forward.  And the limited interconnection of so many A2K initiatives represents an “under-leveraging” of opportunities.

These two challenges — building synergies and consolidating the movement — are related, I believe, and should be discussed in tandem.

Simply by assembling so many essays about A2K, Access to Knowledge in the Age of Intellectual Property helps show the rich breadth of A2K initiatives and thinking.  This is helpful for both expert-practitioners and the lay public.  We are all parochial in many respects.  The book provides a valuable common body of knowledge so that each of us can begin to take stock of the whole.

But the overview that the book provides also highlights, paradoxically, the many gaps between A2K communities and each one’s relative isolation.  How much are the access to medicine people involved with open access publishing gambits and those, in turn, with free software and commons-based knowledge and innovation communities?  Some, but clearly not enough.

People can debate whether this is good or bad thing, or simply a fact of life in the networked world.  I think that further progress in advancing A2K principles requires that we find new ways to stimulate “inter-tribal” communications and active collaboration on a broader agenda.  The example of the Free Culture Forum in Barcelona is one admirable attempt to address this issue.   Surely there are other ways in which federated cooperation could be intensified, with overall benefits to all A2K factions.  The foundation world could play a useful role in this regard.

As for bridging the gap between A2K practitioners and the general public and key constituencies, this book represents an important step.  However, we need to dream up new ways to engage oblivious mainstream institutions.  This includes not just the “usual suspects” — the press, politicians, universities, etc. — but also many progressive advocacy groups who remain mired in the pre-digital paradigm of centralized institutions, credentialed expertise, proprietary control of knowledge, etc.  As Herve Le Crosnier points out in his post, overcoming cultural prejudices is a long and difficult proposition.  While many elements within higher education, mainstream journalism, government agencies, scientific researchers, cultural nonprofits, and creative sectors understand one or another aspect of the A2K movement, I think we need to cultivate deeper levels of understanding and commitment.

I’m not sure if the challenge is about developing a common language (I have been focused on the commons as a lingua franca, but there may be others) or about developing the working personal relationships.  Or a larger, common agenda.  Or maybe certain game-changing developments in the political culture need to occur (e.g., WikiLeaks, Arab revolts fueled by Internet-based media) before the potency of the A2K and related worldviews can “go mainstream.”  These are some of the questions that I think are worth pondering.

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Information commons and global democratic capabilities

Most chapters in the Access to Knowledge in the age of intellectual property book have been initially drafted several years ago.  As we are holding from today a 3-days on-line symposium to celebrate the publication of the book, the ideas covered in the book prove to be not just resilient, but at the heart of a difficult but exciting democratic renaissance.

As many, I joined the Access to Knowledge (A2K) movement from a specific perspective. For me, it was advocacy for commons-based innovation and culture, and struggles against legal and policy mechanisms that threaten their potential. Underlying this involvement was a wider perspective: the idea that information and communication technology (ICT) are at the root of new human capabilities, and that the a proper legal, policy and cultural environment will decide how well we seize this opportunity. As I write these lines, the link between ICT, freedom of expression, democratic empowerment and human development is hot news. And with these news come new questions and challenges.

When my book Cause commune: l’information entre bien commun et propriété was published, I did not invest much energy to get it translated in English, as the aim of the book was to reformulate American knowledge commons-thinking for European, emerging and developing country readers. But one day, I received an email from a Tunisian translator, Abdelouadoud El Omrani, who offered to produce a voluntary translation of the book in Arabic. It ended being published as a paper book by the Qatari National Centre for Culture, Heritage and the Arts, disseminated on the Internet under a Creative Commons license. Let’s be frank, I am not sure that many people read this book in Tunisia (where many likely readers read also French) or in Egypt. That’s partly because the distribution of books (and even ideas) is still very segmented in the Arabic world, and partly because potential readers had more urgent things to do. However, the publication brought me to visit a few Arabic-speaking countries, and to meet Internet users, knowledge sharing advocates, lawyers and writers from the Arab world. I witnessed their courage, their inventive use of poetry and fiction (when they explained it to me, as I don’t understand any Arabic), whether in face of authoritarian regimes for instance in Tunisia or Egypt or in face of the totalitarian imposition of religious prescriptions on individuals, for instance in Saudi Arabia1.

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