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<title>World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) - Fighting intellectual poverty</title>
<h1>Fighting intellectual poverty</h1>
<h2>(Who owns and controls the information societies?)</h2>
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<a href="/about/people/greve/">Georg C.F. Greve</a> - Hamburg, November 3rd&amp;4th 2003
<p>The WSIS is the World Summit on the Information Society, it should
lay the foundations for the what some refer to as Information
Societies, others prefer talk about Knowledge Societies.</p>
<p>Discussing the Information Societies or Knowledge Societies should
include discussion about who owns that Information and Knowledge, who
controls the medium in which they reside, flow and develop and also
who controls the languages we use within that medium. Yet all these
issues are addressed ineffectively (Open Standards), inconsistently
(Free Software) or not at all.</p>
<p>The issue that many governmental delegations would prefer to not
deal with at all are so-called "intellectual property rights" (IPR), a
term primarily covering Patents, Copyright, Trademarks, but also
business models, geographic locators and other things that people wish
to denominate as such.</p>
<p>All of these are very different and usually unrelated areas of law
with very different effects on economy, politics and society. Mixing
them is not only counterproductive for qualified scientific dispute,
the term also puts forward the notion of thoughts being property. What
it could mean to possess a thought remains unclear to the sceptical
<p>However, all these do have one thing in common.</p>
<p>It is both their function and their purpose to establish limited
monopolies on intellectual creativity. For the remainder of the
document, "Intellectual Property Rights" (IPRs) will therefore be
referred to by what they are and do as "Limited Intellectual
Monopolies" (LIMs).</p>
<h3>Who controls what connects us all?</h3>
<p>From the first cave paintings and musical instruments have creativity
and the sharing of knowledge and ideas been what we build culture,
friendship and society upon. Creativity and sharing of knowledge and
what else inspires us are fundamental for making us human.</p>
<p>In 397 AD, Saint Augustinus wrote about this: "Omnis enim res, quae
dando non deficit, dum habetur et non datur, nondum habetur, quomodo
habenda est." ("For if a thing is not diminished by being shared with
others, it is not rightly owned if it is only owned and not shared.")</p>
<p>When Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1476, a millennium after
the writings of St. Augustinus, the effort of sharing knowledge was
reduced by orders of magnitude, but the channels of distribution
required expensive investments on the side of those who distribute it
for us. To protect them, we invented the limited intellectual monopoly
of Copyright for the benefit of society.</p>
<p>Now, another half-millennium later, digitalisation and most notably
the internet have made sharing of knowledge possible at the speed of
light, virtually no cost and very small investments on behalf of
publishers. Every person in possession of a computer has a perfect
(re-)production device and is a publisher by means.</p>
<p>The way we produce knowledge is to build upon each other and upon
those that were before us. No-one stands alone and we are all standing
upon the shoulders of giants. The reservoir we draw from for the
cultural development of mankind and the link that ties us together as
society is the public domain of knowledge.</p>
<p>This resource is being depleted by privatisation and expansion of the
limited intellectual monopolies, such as Patents, Copyrights and
Trademarks. These have become pure trading goods to be bought at
minimum cost from our intellectually creative to be sold at maximum
price to those of us who seek to impart ideas.</p>
<p>Invented for the purpose to benefit society, they often come at the
expense of society today. Using the words of Louise Szente from South
Africa: "Woe is the life of the modern day student living in 'Darkest
Africa' for obviously we are still being kept in the slave quarters of
the world. Harsh words? My friends, try and live in a society where
such Acts as the Intellectual Property Acts of the world impedes your
advancement in life."</p>
<p>Limited intellectual monopolies, of which Copyright is the most
well-known, are strong tools and as such they should be used with
great care. Invented for a different age with different issues and
questions to be addressed, the Information Societies will need a new
form of balance.</p>
<p>Putting forward the simplistic notion that more monopolies always mean
more creation, implied in phrases like: "Intellectual property
protection is essential to encourage the innovation and creativity in
the Information Society." (38, Oct 24th 2003 Non-Paper by
Mr. Samassekou) are ignoring the experience of millennia of human
creativity where no such monopolies existed.</p>
<p>Therefore the Patents, Copyright and Trademarks (PCT) working group
civil societies involved in the World Summit on the Information
Society (WSIS) has worked hard to come to a more neutral statement
like: "Striking a balance between limited information monopolies, on
the one hand, and the use and sharing of knowledge, on the other, is
essential to the Information Society."</p>
<p>Instead, we find statements like: "This balance is reflected by
protection and flexibilities included in existing Intellectual
Property agreements, and should be maintained." (38, Oct 24th 2003
Non-Paper by Mr. Samassekou) in the declaration of principles. A
statement putting forward the notion that the current situation with
appropriation of indigenous knowledge, digital divide and cultural
starvation was already fair and balanced.</p>
<p>The central issues of PCTs and other LIMs is: Who owns the Information
Societies and the intellectual reservoir upon which all of us depend?</p>
<h3>Who controls our cultural techniques?</h3>
<p>The other issue the PCT working group has been dealing with is that of
software and open standards. Access to software determines our chances
for education, communication, work. Like farming was the cultural
technique of the agricultural society, software is the cultural
technique of the Information Societies.</p>
<p>We cannot afford to have minorities control our essential cultural
techniques, which is why the PCT group has been working hard to push
Free Software, which gives everyone the freedoms to use, study, modify
and copy software, thereby participate, learn, partake and share as an
active member of the Information Societies.</p>
<p>The most problematic notion in this regard were those of
"technological neutrality" and "freedom of choice." Both very sane
principles that we support, but used in a confusing matter to imply
the choice between proprietary and Free Software was a technical
choice to make. Also it implies a choice for Free Software would be
unfairly exclusive.</p>
<p>Indeed does Free Software not work well for those who seek to gain
control over others with the intention of exploiting that control to
increase their economic, social or political power. Free Software does
forbid monopolisation of control over our essential cultural technique
for the Information Societies.</p>
<p>Given a strong statement for Free Software, these properties would go
a long way towards making the Information Societies equitable,
non-discriminatory, inclusive and equally available to all.</p>
<h3>Who controls our languages?</h3>
<p>When communicating with others, it is important to speak the same
languages. Those languages in the Information Societies are the
standards we use for storage and transmission of data. Proprietary
standards mean giving control over the languages we use to a single
vendor, leaving those who can not work with that vendor speechless.</p>
<p>Also, when switching software vendors or even when upgrading within
one vendor -- often after that vendor pushed us to upgrade -- we may
be left speechless when communicating with our past selves: when
failing to read old files we wrote with other applications or older
versions of the application we are using.</p>
<p>The only way to solve these problems are Open Standards, which make
the language of the Information Societies transparent and equally
available to all. Therefore the importance of standardisation is
widely recognised by all participants to the WSIS,
e.g. "Standardization is one of the essential building blocks of the
Information Society." (40, Oct 24th 2003 Non-Paper by
Mr. Samassekou).</p>
<p>Unfortunately, no phrasing found in the WSIS documents so far would
ensure Open Standards, because a standard can only be open if it is
freely implementable and publicly documented. </p>
<p>Therefore the PCT working group has been pushing hard to get these
included and make sure the languages of the Information Societies will
be available to us all.</p>
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