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Monday, September 11, 2006

Recognizing the voluntary commons in international law

Philippe Aigrain, Towards a positive recognition of commons-based research and innovation in international norms, an extended extended version of a talk at the Access to Knowledge conference (Alexandria, September 7-8, 2006).  Excerpt:

In the recent years, a powerful trend has developed internationally of creating voluntarily knowledge that can freely exchanged and used. This was in part a reaction against the extension of restrictive property-like
rights. But it also built up as a natural possibility in the information era where knowledge and creations can easily be represented in information, and can be created, processed and exchanged using information and communication technology. As soon as information technology and information representations for knowledge in fields such as biology were born, researchers and users have started informally creating and exchanging information in a way that prefigured today's voluntary information and knowledge commons. From John von Neumann to John Sulston, from Donald Knuth to the creators of the Internet and the Web, it seemed simply the right thing to do to create and share knowledge in the information era.

Those willing to create information and knowledge commons did not have an existing legal concept which they could simply apply to the corresponding artefacts. They had to simulate it using contractual arrangements or permission notices. In parallel, those who wanted to make possible some public interest usage of copyrighted works or patented matter without going to complex or often impossible negotiations and transactions had recourse to exceptions and limitations provisions in laws and treaties. Remarkable achievements have been done under both the licensing and exceptions/limitations mechanisms. They range from free software to open science, from freely accessible publications to publicly accessible libraries and legal deposit. However, generalising these achievements to other fields, and making them possible in different areas of the world would be greatly facilitated by a direct recognition of the "voluntary commons" in international norms. Do not mistake me, I don't think that such a recognition would be a replacement for the existing IPR titles. It is a different layer of norms, and it can not be designed on the same basis, by copying the property-like