Techdirt Reading List: Information Feudalism: Who Owns The Knowledge Economy?

from the restricting-information-flow-is-not-free-trade dept

We’re back again with another in our weekly reading list posts of books we think our community will find interesting and thought provoking. Once again, buying the book via the Amazon links in this story also helps support Techdirt.

As we discussed yesterday, the TPP was signed by all participating countries yesterday in New Zealand (though there’s still a big ratification fight required to make it matter). We have lots of issues with the TPP, many of which we’ve raised over the years — but the first issue that drew our attention to it was the intellectual property chapter. For years, we’ve questioned how it could possibly make sense to include intellectual property in a so-called “free trade” agreement, as intellectual property is the exact opposite of free trade. It’s a government granted monopoly and restriction on the movement of information. And, yet, in the past two decades, basically any international trade agreement has included sections concerning intellectual property.

How did this happen? Well, that’s the subject of the book on today’s Techdirt Reading List: Information Feudalism: Who Owns the Knowledge Economy?, by Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite. The book, which came out over a decade ago, is a detailed accounting of how a bunch of legacy industry lobbyists — including those from Hollywood, the pharmaceutical industry and the tech industry — figured out how to convince trade officials around the globe that stronger intellectual property enforcement was a “free trade” issue. And they did so almost entirely behind closed doors, and without most people (even those who are focused on intellectual property issues) being fully aware of what was happening when it was happening.

These days, at least, there’s a lot more awareness of what’s happening, and activists and newer innovative tech companies (rather than old school legacy tech companies) are paying much closer attention. But the seeds of what these legacy industries put in place decades ago live on, dangerously, limiting innovation, keeping the cost of medicines and information artificially high, and laughing all the way to the bank while the public suffers over and over again. We owe it to ourselves to understand how this happened, and Information Feudalism is an enlightening, if frustrating, book for those who want to fight back and stop this dangerous process.

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