Meso-, exo-movements for intellectual freedom?

Eden Medina’s book review of Conflicts in the Knowledge Society. The Contentious Politics of Intellectual Property (2013) by Sebastian Haunss (emphasis added):

Whereas Bell, Castells, and Stehr positioned modes of innovation as a site of conflict in the knowledge society, Haunss notes that they viewed this conflict as arising from a transition from manufacturing to knowledge-based production. Yet, the conflicts Haunss describes are not about manufacturing versus services or tacit versus theoretical knowledge. Instead, they are about what form the network economy should take. Such insights are among the most provocative in the book because they allow the reader to position IP conflicts within a larger literature on social theory. Haunss’s observations, moreover, show that there is room for future theoretical work on the relationship of technology, economy, and social structure

Haunss describes opposition to software patents in Europe, transnational mobilization for access to medicines, the emergence Pirate Parties, and Creative Commons licenses, called in the book’s introduction “the four most important conflictual mobilizations about the rules, norms and institutional arrangements that govern the production, use and valorization of knowledge.” The “four most important” claim seems untenable to me given their diversity.

If only relatively discrete mobilizations were considered, the mobilizations concerning software patents and access to medicine that Haunss focuses on might and certainly would be respectively among the four most important. (I suspect the book was completed before the SOPA and ACTA protests as the former is not mentioned and the latter is mentioned as not generating a broad mobilization.)

With movements included, how could free/open source software and open access/open science not be considered more important than those listed? But the characterization probably doesn’t take away from Haunss’s overall observations — his selections probably work as one set of potentially “paradigmatic” (also claimed in the introduction) mobilizations.

Haunss concludes by speculating about the possibility for “meso-mobilization” in the area of IP, which he defines as mobilization among groups that can coordinate and integrate the work of smaller groups. He identifies two focal points of previous mesomobilization: the mobilization around the WIPO’s Development Agenda and the Access to Knowledge initiative at Yale Law School. Haunss laments that the knowledge society has yet to produce a social movement capable of mobilizing a broader constituency around a shared master frame.Yet, we must wonder whether this is a goal shared by the actors he describes or even whether the interests of pirates, CC lawyers, AIDS patients, and members of the free software movement should aspire to a unified frame. Indeed, social movements may be stronger when grounded in their specificities (e.g., a right to health care instead of a right to access knowledge). Given the diversity of stakeholders in the different IP debates Haunss studies, a broader mobilization may not be practical or even desirable.

I share this lament. Certainly the vast majority of actors mobilizing around knowledge policy in order to realize a right to health care, software freedom, privacy of communication, better science, or other specific frames, should continue doing what they’re doing. But I suspect their individual success would be increased with a bit more knowledge sharing and collaboration across frames and that the opportunity to shape “what form the network economy should take” (emphasized above) is much bigger than any of these individual frames. For one example, see PostCapitalism. Knowledge policy is systematically shaping society and will increasingly do so. Haunss following many others characterizes ours as a knowledge society; in this regard we’ve seen nothing yet. Knowledge policy needs to be at or near the center of any useful global agenda for the future. Perhaps an exomovement rather than a mesomovement is callled for.

Whatever the terminology used, a unified frame that somehow advances freedom, equality, and security as the top goals of knowledge policy is needed to obtain a good future. The frame leading to increasing inequality and conflict is clear and unified: intellectual property, as demonstrated by among other things the existence of WIPO and the entire field of intellectual property scholarship. As I’ve stated many times, the latter ought re-imagine themselves as innovation policy scholars, or better, commons scholars. But that would be a symptom (preferably also a cause) of the emergence of a unified frame for intellectual freedom. From where? Some candidates:

  • The broader commons movement, which takes knowledge policy seriously and unsurprisingly often makes commons-favoring reform (which I claim to be of by far the most useful and sustainable type; cf. those mitigating the worst embarrassments and inefficiencies of intellectual property) central. The P2P Foundation is perhaps the best place to track the commons movement (indeed, I noticed Medina’s review highlighted on the P2P Foundation blog).
  • Increasing collaboration among and prominence of various formal (with key NGOs) free/open knowledge and knowledge policy reform movements; I suppose this would be the most clearly “meso”. There’s somewhat of a trend toward this as the most successful movements and especially largest organizations expand their ambitions.
  • “Open source everything.” Something of the concepts and practices associated with free/open knowledge in all kinds of actors that seem to have very loose or no connections to the formal movements, or are so much larger than those movements that strong connections that exist are effectively very weak for the actor overall. Possibly these concepts and practices are natural attractors that will become more central even if their origin movements do not.
  • Relatively mainstream general public policy could gravitate toward the centrality of intellectual freedom, because it is so obviously necessary for growth and equality.
  • Pirate parties or some other electoral entrepreneurs could become much more successful than the former has been so far and effectively create a unified frame for progressive knowledge policy around its agenda.
  • Businesses with a competitive advantage in providing commons-based solutions could promote a unified frame for progressive knowledge policy in order to exclude competition from businesses with competitive advantage in providing proprietary solutions.
  • Some broad and egregious anti-progressive/pro-property knowledge policy could galvanize a broad set of actors, both those previously involved in knowledge policy and not, to imagine and prioritize a unified progressive knowledge policy frame.

These are probably all complementary. I’m probably missing major categories and these may be ill-described; suggestions wanted. Unclear and needing much more analysis: their probabilities and magnitudes of impact and what might be done to increase these.

Haunss’s book does, however, provide means to bring this discussion to a larger audience. It is also a good overview of recent IP conflicts for those hoping to gain a better understanding of the stakes involved.

Haunss has a web page for the book from which the introduction and table of contents may be viewed, and includes links to a couple shorter reviews. It’s unfortunate that the most effective way to bring this discussion to a larger audience is through marketing and distribution by a closed access press (paperback $39, ebook $104 and likely DRM’d, hardback $129). Pirate libraries seem not to ‘stock’ the book, though my cursory search efforts may just be inadequate. I’m not faulting Haunss any more than I fault any individual scholar for publishing in a closed access journal: collective action is required for the scholarly segment of knowledge society to prioritize and achieve equality and freedom above property, as with the whole of knowledge society.

Finally, a quote from the book’s introduction:

The fact that the politics of intellectual property has become an issue so important that it appears on the 2011 G8 meeting’s agenda before nuclear safety, climate change, development and peace, is a result of the transformation of our current societies into knowledge societies.

Another way intellectual property harms security: misdirecting high-level focus away from urgent and existential risks.

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