Interview with Yochai Benkler, Yale Law School 27/04/2006 by Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Much of our best content is available only to IP Watch subscribers. We are a non-profit independent news service, and subscribing to our service helps support our goals of bringing more transparency to global IP and innovation policies. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the authors and are not associated with Intellectual Property Watch. IP-Watch expressly disclaims and refuses any responsibility or liability for the content, style or form of any posts made to this forum, which remain solely the responsibility of their authors.Yochai Benkler is a law professor at Yale Law School. He helped host a well-attended conference on Access to Knowledge held 21-23 April at Yale. Benkler focuses on the effect of laws on flows of information and knowledge in the digital environment, and has published a new book on knowledge commons called The Wealth of Networks. In a sit-down interview with Intellectual Property Watch, Benkler challenged the notion that more IP is always good for innovation and predicted the rise of the A2K movement. Intellectual Property Watch (IPW): What is the importance of this conference and of the Access to Knowledge movement? BENKLER: I think what we’re seeing is the emergence of a global movement from a collection of different interests, different coalitions, ranging from the access to medicines movement, to people interested in open source software, to librarians, who may have in the past had ad hoc coalitions on this particular battle or that, beginning to develop an idea of themselves as part of a global social movement focused on constructing the basic conditions of the ability to participate in producing knowledge, culture, information, the very basic building blocks of human flourishing and welfare. IPW: You have a new book out, and I’d be interested to get a sense of how the ideas which many people here have referred to that you’ve put forward fit in with what you’ve heard at this conference. BENKLER: What I tried to do in my own book was look at the implications of very long-term trends in technology, economics and the organisation of production on one hand, and the politics of the public sphere on the other, to try to crystallize what exactly is sustainably different about the network information environment, and identifying the centrality of social relations, collaborative peer production as new modes of production, which in turn supplant and add to the mass media public sphere and the traditional industrial model of information production, to make for a more democratic and participatory society, and in the context of the global information economy, for a potentially more widely distributed ability to access information, knowledge, information-embedded tools, information-embedded goods, which in themselves then become part of human flourishing and human development. I think those same trends that I was looking at in the book are the trends that underlie both the conditions to which the access to knowledge movement is responding, and the platform – intellectual and material – on which the access to knowledge movement is growing. So I hope my work can provide some help or some point of reference for at least some of the ideas that the access to knowledge movement will begin to develop and crystallize as it emerges as a more stable social movement. IPW: Where would see this movement ending up, how much change do you think we’ll see? BENKLER: It’s very hard to tell. Twenty-five years ago, the major move towards a concept of IP, integration of IP into trade, and a very strong IP-trade policy harmonised around the world through the pressure of the IP exporters, particularly US and EU, was not yet a reality. Now it seems like an irreversible reality. I don’t think it’s irreversible, in the same way that the conditions that preceded it were amenable to change along IP. I think it’s quite possible, though by no means necessary, that this movement will succeed in creating coalitions among activists in both the North and the South, with governments in the South, with academics, with companies in the North, particularly in the IP sector, that understand that too strong an IP regime is actually undermining their own work. We’re beginning to see this already now. Even the EU is beginning to look again at their database rights as they realise that it’s a bad idea and it makes no sense. So, I’m not sure that I’m an optimist, but I’m certainly not a pessimist on the possibilities that this movement will actually succeed in waking us up from a very long period where we thought that more and more IP is better for innovation, and better for creativity and better for development, when we’re beginning to learn that it is not better for innovation, it not better for creativity, and it is not better for human development. How far we’ll be able to make the innovation, knowledge and learning environment one that is more attentive to human freedom and human development rather than to the industrial policy of the information exporters is hard to tell. But even the fact that we’re beginning to understand that that’s what’s at stake, as opposed to that there’s one right path that everybody has to follow and whoever doesn’t is underdeveloped, will help to move I hope in substantial ways toward a better system. IPW: How critical is for policymakers in Geneva and the capitals to understand this? BENKLER: If policymakers actually understood this, it would be critical. I think it would be very helpful. I think what is ultimately critical is that people in their practices and in their political consciousness understand this because ultimately the policy people will follow what comes out of a relatively transparent political movement even if they don’t initially understand it. Of course if we could overcome that by simply having the people who have power understand and moderate the policy, this would save many years and many tears. Prof. Yochai Benkler’s research focuses on the effects of laws that regulate information production and exchange on the distribution of control over information flows, knowledge, and culture in the digital environment, according to the A2K conference website. His particular focus has been on the neglected role of commons-based approaches towards management of resources in the digitally networked environment. He has written about the economics and political theory of rules governing telecommunications infrastructure, with a special emphasis on wireless communications, rules governing private control over information, in particular intellectual property, and of relevant aspects of US constitutional law. His book The Wealth of Networks is now available from Yale University Press. 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