26 April 2011

Breaking the Monopoly of Celebration

Today is apparently something called "World Intellectual Property Day". How bizarre to be celebrating government-backed monopolies that lock down knowledge.

According to the WIPO site:

The aims of World IP Day are:

to raise awareness of how patents, copyright, trademarks and designs impact on daily life;

to increase understanding of how protecting IP rights helps promote creativity and innovation;

to celebrate creativity, and the contribution made by creators and innovators to the development of societies across the globe;

to encourage respect for the IP rights of others.

So, that impact would be things like HADOPI, which wants to install spyware on every French user's PC; or ACTA, that will turn enforcement agencies around the world into the content industry's private police force; or the New Zealand legislation that would make even watching unauthorised copies of videos on YouTube enough to get you thrown off the Internet.

So what about that "understanding of how protecting IP rights helps promote creativity and innovation"? Well, I'd certainly like to understand that by seeing some independent, peer-reviewed research into the field, because at the moment what we have is just an unstated assumption that intellectual monopolies promote creativity, not evidence.

And it's certainly clear that those same monopolies do crimp creativity when it comes to mashups that are forbidden by copyright, or to writing software programs when surrounded by impenetrable patent thickets. What we need is some research that actually examines whether copyright and patents *do* promote creativity and innovation on balance.

And I'm all for "creativity, and the contribution made by creators and innovators to the development of societies across the globe", but I believe we should celebrate all kinds of creativity, not just the kind that makes money for WIPO's friends. And that means giving back to the great commons of culture - letting creators present and future do with your content what you have done with the work of the past - something that is impossible when copyright terms are so long most people will never live long enough to create using the raw material of their own culture.

And finally, that "respect": respect for monopolies? Really? Respect for excluding people, respect for refusing to share? Can't we do better than that? How about another, rather different, global day that celebrates generosity not judicial threats, sharing not suing?

Of course, pitting ourselves against the might of WIPO machine and its monopolist friends is no easy task: they possess all the power and money, while we must make do with having only right and time on our side.

Time, because the younger generation know instinctively that sharing is good - it's what their mothers told them, after all. And once they rise to positions of power the old monopolistic dinosaurs will suddenly find themselves superseded and looking very silly for the anachronistic idea that digital creations could ever be treated as anything but abundant.

But how should we organise all this? Well, Leo Loikkanen has knocked up a quick World Sharing Day manifesto - completely open and editable, of course - and invites everyone to help hone and perfect it (with a rather tight deadline....)

But that's just one approach: there are many other ways we can celebrate sharing - and I encourage you to , er, share some in the comments, or on your own site, or, indeed, anywhere. After all, why should the intellectual monopolists have a monopoly on all the fun...?

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