Access to knowledge : building the commons - Introduction to panel 2

Valérie Peugeot Welcome to this second panel, dedicated to the question of access to knowledge and the building of the commons.

Let me introduce myself briefly : my name is Valérie Peugeot, I come from France, from an non profit organisation called Vecam, which was created in 1995, and works since then to promote social appropriation of information and communication technologies and to put into the public space the political issues related to those technologies.

This morning I have the difficult task to coordinate and introduce this panel. It was prepared together with other organisations, KEI - Knowledge ecology international (Jamie Love), APC - Association for progressive communications, AIPSN – All Indian people science networks (Amit Sengupta), in relation with the coordination of the sciences and democracy world forum.

Before presenting and giving the floor to our five panellists, let me just say a few words about the way we decided do draft the theme of this panel.

We all have a deep consciousness that the importance of knowledge in our societies is growing everyday, not only is it the centre of our culture, but it is also becoming the hart of our economies, the driving force of our development, both in so called developed or developing countries. We are also aware of the fact that the way in which this knowledge can circulate is changing dramatically for two main reasons : one is technical, and the other political.

The technical one is networking and digitalisation, a direct result of innovation. This allows knowledge, converted into data, to circulate and to copy instantaneously without any limits. Among other consequences, it implies that one main factor of growth is becoming what economists use to call a non exclusive, non rival, non subtractive good. That means that the access to knowledge can not be denied, that once a person enjoys access to a chunk of knowledge, others still can have the benefit of it. Those characteristics are traditionally related to economic public goods, although in today’s economy, they apply to a large range of cultural knowledge, of which only a small portion falls into public domain. And this major change is introducing a deep destabilisation in our economic models. The private sector, used to deal with scarcity, ignores how to deal with this situation of abundance, or refuses to take the change into account.

The second reason for a drastic change in knowledge circulation is ideological : in the last 30 years, we have, little by little, under the influence of neoconservative and neo liberal ideologies, lost sight of what the objectives of sciences, technology and knowledge as a whole should be. Equity, shared welfare, a sustainable society, a growing cultural inheritance are almost “politically un correct” once confronted with the short term ambitions of a science compelled to find its funding in the private sector and therefore driven by commodification forces. Having said that, how do the knowledge commons fit into the picture, how the commons can help us facing this deep shift both in the production and circulation of knowledge ?

First of all, let me clarify briefly the concept of knowledge commons : the commons, are neither knowledge in the public domain, nor knowledge ruled by market forces and its restrictive conception of intellectual property rights. Knowledge commons are results of innovation, of creativity, that are deliberately placed under a self organised regime of rights and rules by the communities which have a direct interest in them, whether they are producers or users of this knowledge. Theses rights and rules favour the circulation and sharing of this knowledge among the community, while maintaining the community control and governance over these discoveries, inventions, traditional knowledge and artefacts.

In our views, this approach presents several advantages, and I shall insist on two of them :

First of all, the knowledge commons open a path, a third way, which goes far beyond the traditional closed choice between a publicly owned or privately owned knowledge and science as a whole. The knowledge commons can be built and increased by the communities themselves, in a self organised manner. This implies that not only will it have an impact on the circulation of knowledge, but also on the democratic organisation of communities. The knowledge commons allows us to build a different relation to economy – the way wealth is built and shared – but also to governance.

Second advantage : it questions the public authorities about their new responsibilities. But, as the issues at stake call for an international public framework, which by nature takes years to be built, we do not have to wait : the communities can start building the knowledge commons, right now, at the local, national or international level. When you look at the existing movements – I am talking about the free software movement, the creative commons movement, the open science initiative, the free archive organisation, the free data movement, and other initiatives that will be introduced by the panellists… –, you can tell that the knowledge commons is being built here and now, and it is our task, our responsibility, as searchers, academics, or activists, to amplify this wave, and to give it the theoretical and political framework it deserves.

Posté le 10 février 2009

©© Vecam, article sous licence creative common