Information as a global public good:
a right to knowledge and communication
This was an (unsuccessful) proposal for an Oxfam International advocacy campaign, to run 2002 to 2004: its layout follows that requested in the call for submissions, hence some of the odd terminology and "internal" references.
The current Oxfam Make Trade Fair campaign covers some "information" issues, in particular concerns about patents.
"More stringent protection for patents will increase the costs of technology transfer. Developing countries will lose approximately $40bn a year in the form of increased licence payments to Northern-based TNCs, with the USA capturing around one-half of the total. Behind the complex arguments about intellectual-property rights, the TRIPs agreement is an act of institutionalised fraud, sanctioned by WTO rules." Read more [DEAD http://www.maketradefair.com/stylesheet.asp?file=03042002154412].Oxfam International campaign proposal (May 2000)
================================================================ You will note that this document is written in plain ascii, rather than being a Word document as requested. If there is to be genuine grass-roots participation in Oxfam International campaigns, all the communications and information required for such participation must be available to everyone -- not dependent on access to proprietary software which costs more than the annual income of a quarter of the planet's population. ================================================================ 1. Name of Campaign Information as a global public good: A right to knowledge and communication 2. Proposed by / Contact details Ronni Martin - firstname.lastname@example.org acting advocacy coordinator, Community Aid Abroad Oxfam Australia Danny Yee - email@example.com webmaster, Community Aid Abroad Oxfam Australia George Grisancich - firstname.lastname@example.org information technology manager, Community Aid Abroad Oxfam Australia 3. Proposition 'Knowledge is now the critical component to production, and access to it represents a key divide between rich and poor.' (OI ACC Planning Papers). Increasingly, information and tools for manipulating and communicating information are controlled ("owned") by individuals or corporations rather than being public goods available to everyone. The Oxfams should work to change policies of governments, multilaterals and companies which are driving this appropriation, in order to avoid the creation and exacerbation of inequalities in access to information. This is essential to ensure that women and men world-wide, now and in the future, are able to play a full part in the global society and economy. 4.Goals of Campaign * to pressure governments and multilateral organisations to adopt policies and legislation that favour the maintainance of public information resources and free and open communications. * to encourage attempts to build and maintain open information resources, as public goods freely accessible and usable by all. * to promote the sharing of information through global campaigning networks. 5. Link to Strategic Change Objectives (SCOs) This proposal specifically addresses the OI Global SCO 4.1: Achievement of civil and political rights; effective voice in influencing decisions; support to exercise these rights effectively. The proposal will also contribute to achieving other SCOs. Global SCO 1.2: Paid employment, dignified working conditions, labour rights and opportunities to benefit from alternative economic models. There is a direct connection through employment increasingly moving to information-based sectors of the economy, but the appropriation of basic scientific and cultural information, changing them from public goods into private property, threatens traditional ways of life and the autonomy of both workers and consumers. 6. Nature and scale of the problem An increasing portion of the world's production and trade involves information and the exchange of information. Traditional media (film, publishing, music) have been joined by a rapidly expanding Internet sector. And increasingly "old" and "new" media are coming together, in such events as the recent AOL-Time Warner merger. The changes brought by an information economy are profound, arguably as significant as those wrought by the industrial revolution. They will affect the lives of everyone, even those not immediately involved. Finally, the core product in this sector - information - has unique attributes, not shared by others. The steel used to construct a building, or the boots worn by the workers constructing it, cannot be consumed by anyone else. Information is different. Not only is it available for multiple uses and users, it becomes more valuable the more it is used. The same is true of the networks that link up different sources of information. We in the policy-making world need to understand better how the economics of information differs from the economics of inherently scarce physical goods - and use it to advance our policy goals." The Secretary General's Millenium Report (159) http://www.un.org/millenium/sg/report/ And information and communications are also an essential component of the development process itself. As the United Nations Sustainable Development Networking Program says: "Information and Communication Technologies are now fundamental to dealing with all development issues in developing countries." But who will control the critical components of the information economy? A good deal of the world's primary resources are located in the poorer countries of the world's "South", even if their exploitation is often in the hands of external corporations. Systems for controlling information and its distribution, on the other hand are (like possession of capital) overwhelmingly centralised in the rich "North". And the trend of changes in international and national intellectual "property" law has been steadily towards favouring large corporations: in practice, for example, copyright law is only a useful tool to those with the resources to use it. Some of the key areas involved are: * the Internet as a public communication system The Internet is an example of a communications system built on open rather than proprietary protocols and technology. While barriers to Internet access are a major problem, these are far less of a problem than they would be if key elements of Internet technology were owned by individual corporations. It is vital that this openness be protected, otherwise those currently without access may find it priced forever out of their reach. * biotechnology (and pharmaceuticals) The Green Revolution clearly demonstrated the hazards of allowing agribusiness to dictate development policy and control agriculture. Like the Green Revolution, biotechnology promises great benefits at nearly no cost, but threatens to increase inequalities and reduce the autonomy of farmers. Biotech firms and pharmaceutical companies are identifying and then patenting indigenous knowledge and Southern biodata: this "ownership" of information appropriates what was previously common knowledge and turns it the private property of an elite. Particularly preposterous is ownership of genetic code and the uncompensated appropriation of seed varieties from the locals who have developed them over generations. * free software NGOs and Southern people's organizations are often forced to utilize illegally copied proprietary software, leaving them vulnerable to intimidation and manipulation through corporate and government threats to 'enforce software licenses'. Such software also creates long-term dependencies for support, maintainance and upgrades. With free software, in contrast, users have the freedom to make modifications to suit their own needs, to build new tools using existing ones, and to share with others. The free software movement has demonstrated, through the creation of systems such as GNU/Linux and others, that there are alternatives to proprietary software systems that force users into relations of dependency. * databases and public vs private information Information on the Internet is mostly freely accessible; libraries hold large quantities of information which they can make available to all comers. This information is often essential for communities, activists, and researchers. But corporations are attempting to restrict public information and the freedoms to use information, in order to create information monopolies that can be used to extract larger profits. For poor women and men, often the only information they will be able to use is that that is public or available under universal access rights (or potentially that obtained by illegal copying and use): the pricing for proprietary information invariably places it out of the reach of the poorest. * predatory patents The patent system is out of control. Companies are being granted patents on ideas which are obvious and then using them to suppress competition and monopolise ideas, in a manner totally at variance with the original justification for patents. And the WIPO Patent Law Treaty will, if not stopped, force Northern patent systems on the rest of the world. We need to make sure that patents are not used to 'own' ways of doing things that are central to production, communication, culture, or basic science. 7. Political analysis We need to ensure that the foundations of the info-systems that will dominate the coming century are open, are genuine "global public goods" and not the property of individuals or corporations. It is important to ensure that access to information is equitable to prevent a concentration of information power which could dominate all communities financially and politically. This concentration is presently being assisted by a global trade and investment framework which favours large monopolistic northern companies. In particular, WIPO supports the agenda of powerful companies who want to appropriate traditional knowledge and public information goods for their own commercial gain. This is the context for intellectual property rights enforcement. This world market in knowledge is a major and profoundly anti-democratic new stage of capitalist development. The transformation of knowledge into property necessarily implies secrecy: common knowledge is no longer private. In this new and chilling stage, communication itself violates property rights. The WTO is transforming what was previously a universal resource of the human race - its collectively, historically and freely-developed knowledge of itself and nature - into a private and marketable force of production. [Allan Freeman, in "Fixing up the world? GATT and the World Trade Organisation".] UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for the formation of a UN Technology Service to give training in Internet use in his "Millennium" report. Some donors are already funding projects in this area. USAID is spending $15 million over 5 years on the Africa Global Information Infrastructure Project. And the World Bank's InfoDev project is driving the uptake of information and communication technologies in the developing world. By 2002 much of the world may already have the communications infrastructure in place. But we need to monitor this process and take action to ensure that with access to the Net come the rights to access and use information -- for everyone, not just an elite. 8. Change Objectives 8.1. To ensure that fundamental scientific and cultural information remains a public good, without being commercialised or access and use of it otherwise restricted. * to ensure that governments and multilaterals framing copyright laws and treaties for the next millennium e.g. WIPO treaties and agreements (such as TRIPS), various "Digital Millennium Copyright Acts" do not compromise the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens and organisations acting in the public interest. * to obtain reform of patent legislation, national and international: to prevent patenting of genomes, plant varieties, and traditional medicinal products by biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies; to prevent appropriation of algorithms and ideas through software patents. * to encourage legislative support for open protocols and free software (cf proposed French law at http://www.osslaw.org/pr_en.html) * to encourage and publicise initiatives by NGOs to build alternative information resources that are public goods, e.g. local seed-banks, generic pharmaceuticals, open human genome projects, the free software movement, project Gutenberg. * to encourage the adoption and extension of ethical trading and appropriate technology policies which cover informational products. 8.2. To promote participation by civil society in multilateral intellectual property processes and by southern individuals and organisations in NGO forums and processes. * Demand open disclosure of all WIPO and WTO processes and activities. * Support and advocate for extension of existing programs to increase access to information and communication technologies in the South (eg the UNDP's Sustainable Development Network Programme initiative, IDRC's Bellanet, PAN). * Assist Southern organisations to access information on, and participate in, existing NGO forums and other consultation processes. * Set up and maintain issues-based forums and discussion lists which include partner organisations and other Southern activists. Actively recruit and encourage women to participate, perhaps through womens' discussion groups. 9. Influencing opportunities * WIPO meetings * WTO meetings - annual * ITU meetings - global and regional * OECD - active in intellectual property * WSSD 10 year review in 2005 * Decade for Eradication of Poverty 1997-2004- reporting processes. * UN days - e.g. World Telecommunications Day, International Literacy Day. * regional meetings - APEC Tel Working Group, EU * the ICANN domain name governance process 10 Victims * Information-poor women and men, and organisations and communities, deprived of the opportunity to fully participate in the governance, economy and communication systems of their communities. Their options now and in the future will be circumscribed if critical portions of human knowledge are proprietary. * Indigenous and other people whose traditional knowledge is appropriated by others for commercial gain, often without compensation. * NGOs, both North and South, who can't learn from each others' experience. 11 Villains * WIPO, WTO, governments implementing intellectual "property" legislation and treaties that favour large corporations (e.g. the WTO Trade related Intellectual Property Agreement, TRIPs). * "information hoarders" - corporations trying to obtain total control over key intellectual properties in order to control entire markets: e.g. pharmaceutical, biotechnology, software, and media companies. The lobby groups of such corporations. * Repressive governments and other elites unwilling to allow open communication. 12 Heroes Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and the GNU Project. Indigenous rights movements. Librarians. 13. Potential allies * indigenous rights movements * seed-banks and heritage varieties conservers, organic farmers * companies hurt by the information monopolies of others, seeking a genuine "level playing field" in which to compete. * the Free Software Foundation * scientists doing open, public research; community-based participatory research approaches * Freedom of Information activists * the UN Sustainable Development Networking Programme (UNDP/SNDP) * NGOs and development organisations creating and providing access to information resources (e.g. PAN networking - IDRC) * UNESCO Communication Information and Informatics Group * The Internet Society (ISOC) * Global Internet Liberty Coalition (GILC) * Association for Progressive Communications 14. Advocacy targets and decision makers Multilateral organisations, most notably the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Funders of development programmes such as the World Bank's InfoDev. Governments, especially those of the European Union and the United States. Large corporates. 15. Potential opponents Transnational companies who are profiting from controlling and commercialising information - and their organised lobby groups. (Possible examples: Monsanto, Microsoft, the Business Software Association, the Recording Industry Association of America, ...) Multilaterals and governments relying on secrecy or control of information for their power, or in the pockets of large corporations and their lobby groups. Elites in southern countries. 16. Global salience Existing Oxfam supporters will be enthusiastic about the campaign as the issue is one common to North and South: the maintainance of a central core of public information freely usable by all is also critical for unemployed, rural people, and women (among others) in the developed world. Campaigns around the MAI and Jubilee 2000 have demonstrated that there is widespread concern around the world about the way the global economic system is functioning -- and also the power of open communication systems in activism. This campaign would build on this, targeting multilaterals such as WIPO as well as the WTO, WB, and IMF. This campaign has significant opportunities to reach out to new supporters, financial and ideological, in the ICT industry - both workers and businesses. It should also appeal to younger people who are accustomed to using Internet communication. The practical aspects of Oxfams 'leading by example' provide many opportunities for volunteer involvement in developing and implementing systems, providing training, and in participating in discussion forums. These activities will create a motivated constituency for external activism. The campaign has the potential to create the OI vision of a global popular campaigning network, linking our advocacy and program work and positioning us as a global movement for participatory sustainable development. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Contributions by: Mike Gifford James Howison Richard StallmanNote: this is not a formal Oxfam Community Aid Abroad document.
There was some discussion of this on Slashdot.