Owning the World of Ideas: Intellectual Property and Global Network Capitalism

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Matthew David & Debora Halbert

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    Acknowledgements

    To Johanna K. Schenner for her insights

    Also

    To Daylenn Moke Alani Ka’ai Pua and his Ohana

    Acknowledgements

    David and Halbert provide a timely, concise and cosmopolitan guide to the contradictions and paradoxes that vex the systems of intellectual property that govern the so-called knowledge economy in an era of globalized informational capital. With its crisp prose and comprehensive coverage, it will be a welcome user-friendly manual to introduce students to intellectual property issues across the academy.

    Rosemary J. Coombe, Canada Research Chair in Law, Communication and Culture, York University

    Intellectual property is arguably the branch of law that speaks most directly to the state of capitalist society as a whole, yet until now there hasn’t really been a book that makes both the field’s traditional issues and cutting edge developments accessible to non-specialists in the social sciences. David and Halbert have written just such a book. Owning the World of Ideas is organized around the idea that intellectual property is the pivotal site for studying the interplay of regulation and de-regulation in the shaping of capitalism. The result is a stunning achievement of both comprehensiveness and concision that will be difficult to match in the future.

    Steve Fuller, Auguste Comte Professor of Social Epistemology, University of Warwick, Author of The New Sociological Imagination and The Sociology of Intellectual Life

    Intellectual property used to be a field for technicians, isolated in law practice and ignored by most social justice advocates. It is no longer and for good reason. Through their sustained evaluation of the concept critical in intellectual property law that ideas are a public good and unownable as private property, Halbert and David demonstrate how preserving the freedom of ideas in the face of global economic inequality and the inevitability of digital connectivity in the 21st century is critical to democratic engagement, health and human flourishing.

    Jessica Sibley, Professor of Law, Suffolk University Law School

    In Owning the World of Ideas, David and Halbert offer an incisive, critical and powerful analysis of information capitalism, focusing on its monopolisation of knowledge and culture through increasingly aggressive structures of intellectual ownership. The authors present a timely counter to these trends, arguing instead for an approach to intellectual property that favours human well-being over and above the economic expropriation and monopolisation of knowledge. This is an important book which deserves a wide and appreciative audience.

    Majid Yar, Professor of Sociology and Associate Director: Centre for Criminology & Criminal Justice (CCCJ), University of Hull

    Owning the World of Ideas is a stimulating situation report on current political and legal struggles over intellectual property (IP), regarded only a few decades ago as the exclusive domain of specialist lawyers and economists. Written for a general readership by two well-known IP scholars, this well-researched book shows that while juridical IP control through copyright, patents, trademarks and other mechanisms is constantly expanding into new areas, IP rights are often ignored by the broad public and are frequently technically unenforceable. The authors describe how these various IP systems work, their defects, who benefits from them, the harm that they often cause, and forms that resistance has taken. By debunking overreaching claims that IP incentivises creativity, facilitates the spread of innovation and supports quality control, this accessible book will help to counterbalance often aggressive pro-IP propaganda from industry organisations.

    Dr Colin Darch, Democratic Governance and Rights Unit, Faculty of Law, University of Cape Town

    About the Authors

    Matthew David teaches sociology at Durham University (UK). He is the author of Peer to Peer and the Music Industry: The Criminalization of Sharing (Theory, Culture and Society Monograph Series 2010), Social Research: An Introduction (second edition, with Carole D. Sutton, Sage 2011), Science in Society (Palgrave 2005) and Knowledge Lost in Information (with David Zeitlyn and Jane Bex, Office of Humanities Press 1998). He recently completed editing (with Debora Halbert, Sage 2014) The Sage Handbook of Intellectual Property and (with Peter Millward, Sage 2014) the four-volume Researching Society Online. His research on file-sharing, live-streaming and new media has been published in British Journal of Sociology; European Journal of Social Theory; Sport in Society; Perspectives on Global Development and Technology; and Crime, Media, Culture; as well as in the Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies (edited by William H. Dutton 2013). Research on other aspects of science and technology in society has been published in Sociological Research Online; New Genetics and Society; Current Sociology; International Sociology; Telematics and Informatics; Systemica; and Sociology Compass. He is interested in the potential for sharing in an age beyond scarcity and is currently writing a book to be called Sharing: Crime against Capitalism?

    Debora Halbert is Professor of Political Science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she teaches futures studies, public policy and courses in law and society. In addition to being Chair for the Political Science Department, Halbert is a faculty affiliate with the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies. The bulk of her academic publications deal with intellectual property in the digital world, with an even more targeted focus on copyright law. Her most recent book, The State of Copyright: The Complex Relationships of Culture Creation in a Globalized World, was published by Routledge in 2014. Her previous books include Intellectual Property in the Information Age: The Politics of Expanding Ownership Rights (Quorum 1999) and Resisting Intellectual Property (Routledge 2005). She has also published numerous articles on intellectual property as it relates to politics, culture, technology and the law. Her work on intellectual property is situated more broadly within a concern and interest in digital politics, the impact of information technology and the future impacts of technology on social structures including politics, law and education. Thus, issues of file-sharing, privacy, digital politics, digital democracy, technology futures and the concept of neuropolitics define additional research interests. Halbert was recently a visiting scholar with Lund University’s Pufendorf Institute working with members of the Lund Internet Institute on privacy, security and internet issues. She continues to collaborate with LUii on these issues.

    Preface

    Can they/Can’t they? Do they/Don’t they? Should they/Shouldn’t they?

    The title of this book presents a stark possibility. Some would say it is not possible. Ownership suggests the most forceful conception of control. World invokes everything there is. Given the intellectual property (IP) implications of the Outer Space Treaty, we could have said Universe. Ideas cover that which most defines what it means to be human, both as individual minds and as an inter-subjective species. Owning the world of ideas is then a tall order. Might our title then be mere hyperbole? Formally, ownership of ideas is legally impossible and, at a global level, can never be fully achieved. Yet, in very real and significant ways, these limits have been undone.

    Can they/Can’t they? Firstly, in every domain of IP a distinction is drawn between abstractions and their tangible manifestations. In all cases, in all jurisdictions, in principle, the manifestation can be owned while the abstraction/knowledge being expressed cannot. As such, in principle, ideas simply cannot be owned. While the principle remains, undoing the distinction underpinning the principle allows its force to be undone and its meaning hollowed out. In the domain of copyright, the distinction between idea and expression has been radically diminished in recent years such that grounds for infringement claims have widened as the space of common culture and fair use has diminished. Similarly, in patent law, the distinction between invention and discovery, novel object and new knowledge of pre-existing things, has been eroded. Likewise, around trademark and related domains the scope for ownership is widened as the distinction between specific symbol and wider culture is reduced.

    Do they/Don’t they? If it is then possible to own ideas, how far has this actually gone in the world? To the extent that ownership has been extended further across the world of ideas, it is not absolute, nor is it fully secure. Nevertheless, in many respects this extension is very real. The post-Cold War global network capitalist world is premised upon regulatory structures – in particular the World Trade Organization, which seeks to enforce deregulation in global markets and production; and its Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) Treaty, which seeks to enforce global regulation of IP. TRIPS and the World Intellectual Property Organization have rolled out IP extension and harmonization – in duration, geographical scope and depth of coverage – which at one level does amount to global ownership of the world of ideas. Yet, this roll-out has not been without resistance and limitations. In some cases opposition has been successful – whether in the form of legislative blockage or through new forms of informal infringement practices.

    Post-Cold War neo-liberal globalization – global regulation to protect property holders, and in particular IP monopolies, combined with a deregulation of securities for everyone else – has not had everything its own way, but nonetheless remains the dominant economic and political order – for now. However, global network capitalism in its neo-liberal form is riddled with internal contradictions. Globalization, the affordances of digital networks and even the contradiction within capitalism itself between private (intellectual) property and ‘pirate’ free-marketeers mean that with even the best will (brute force, law, encryption and surveillance) in the world, IP monopolies cannot fully control even that which they now claim to own. If possession is nine-tenths of the law, file-sharing, generic medicines and counterfeit fashion show that formal ownership over the world of ideas, while real, is far from secure.

    Should they/Shouldn’t they? Given the scope and limits of owning the world of ideas, in both principle and practice, how ‘should’ we respond? In this book we debunk the three key justifications given for intellectual property rights (IPRs): (a) that IP incentivizes more than it inhibits creativity and innovation; (b) that IP is the best means for facilitating the distribution of new creations and innovations; and (c) that IPRs are the best means of maintaining quality and standards for both consumers and primary producers. In so doing we dismiss the arguments put forward for global extension and harmonization of IP and suggest that roll-back, suspension and, in some cases, simply the bypassing of IP offer better solutions for promoting innovation and meeting human needs.

    Matthew David and Debora J. HalbertManoa, HawaiiMarch 2015

    Acknowledgements

    We would like to gratefully acknowledge the intellectual contributions made by the many contributors to The Sage Handbook of Intellectual Property, which inspired this work. Their scholarship defines the newest thinking in the field, and editing a volume of their contributions made it possible to write this book. These include Ann Barron, Sarah Louisa Phythian-Adams, Shubha Ghosh, Daniel Gervais, Peter K. Yu, Salvador Millaleo, Hugo Cadenas, Alex Perullo, Andrew Eisenberg, Margaret Chon, Chris Rojek, Rosemary J. Coombe, Sarah Ives, Daniel Huizenga, Chidi Oguamanam, Colin Darch, Lillian Alvarez, Lee Edwards, Bethany Klein, David Lee, Giles Moss, Fiona Philip, Dave O’Brien, Jyh-An Lee, Pradip Ninan Thomas, Lisa Dobbin, Martin J. Zeilinger, Raizel Liebler, Claudy Op den Kamp, John Tehranian, Andrew Kirton, Peter Millward, Natasha Whiteman, Greg Lastowka, Jessica Silbey, Uma Suthersanen, Ian Brown, David Wall, Graham Dutfield, Susanna H. S. Leong, Jake Dunagan, William R. Kramer and Matthew Rimmer. We would also like to thank Gemma Shields at SAGE for her patience and advice along the way.

    List of Abbreviations

    • – Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement
    • – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    • – Community Design Regulation
    • – Court of Justice of the European Union
    • – foreign direct investment
    • – General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
    • – genetically modified organism
    • – geographical indicator
    • – intellectual property
    • – intellectual property rights
    • – International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants
    • – marks indicating conditions of origin
    • – The Pirate Bay
    • – Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property
    • – traditional knowledge
    • – Traditional Knowledge Digital Project
    • – Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
    • – transnational corporation
    • – Trans-Pacific Partnership
    • – Universal Copyright Convention
    • – US Patent and Trade Office
    • – World Intellectual Property Organization
    • – World Trade Organization
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