Access to Knowledge in the digital world

By EDRi · April 26, 2006

From 21 June to 23 June, Yale Law School hosted the first
international “Access to Knowledge” (A2K) conference. Following two
workshops on the same theme held in 2005 in Geneva and London, the aim
of this conference was to “come up with a new analytic framework for
analysing the possibly distortive effects of public policies relying
exclusively on intellectual property rights” and to “support the
adoption and development of alternative ways to foster greater access
to knowledge in the digitally connected environment.”

The Conference saw the participation of a large number of speakers and
observers from numerous countries, distributed among a packed set of
panels, ranging from larger, conceptual discussions on how political
actions and academic discourses around A2K should be framed, to the
nitty-gritty details of global Digital Rights Management laws and
regulations, licensing frameworks, wireless technologies, genetically
modified food and organisms etc.

The introductory plenary panel on “Framing Access To Knowledge” set up
the beat for the three days; Jack Balkin (law professor and director
of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School) highlighted how
A2K is a matter of distributional justice in “promoting economic
development and human flourishing in [this] historical moment, the
global information economy.” On the other hand, Balkin continued, A2K
is about intellectual property but also goes beyond that.

As expected, intellectual property issues were a central element of
the overall debate during the conference, but Balkin’s last remark was
generally recognized; and, arguably due to the widespread
participation of delegates and observers from developing countries,
several panels highlighted how, more often than not, infrastructural
obstacles are at least as much a worry for a proper policy maximizing
A2K as are laws regulating the distribution and widespread usage of
intellectual assets.

On the other hand, Joel Mokyr (professor of economic history at
Northwestern University) remarked how the debate around A2K should
strive to properly conceptualise what does “knowledge” mean, and care
on the costs of access should always be kept firmly in mind when
devising any policy in this area. Prof. Mokyr suggested that the
sheer amount of information – and the need for such information to be
properly categorized, as well as the different needs of different
people and communities – will produce the occurance of “access
specialists”, i.e. people that will serve as intermediaries and help
reducing the unavoidable information-gathering transaction costs that
are already emerging.

Many other points of view were presented during the three days;
although it would be impossible to cover all of them in this article,
luckily the conference organizers have set up a wiki, where it is
already possible to find notes from all the panels and related

“Access To Knowledge” Conference

Yale Access To Knowledge Wiki

Access To Knowledge Initiative Portal

CPTech’s Access to Knowledge page

UNU-MERIT’s Access 2 Knowledge Hub

(Contribution by Andrea Glorioso – Italian consultant on digital policies)