The Society for Knowledge Commons was founded in India in 2008 to bring together scientists and technologists, researchers, and activists to collaborate on challenges faced by the Global South in areas like education, the sciences and the arts, e-governance, intellectual property and other sectors that impact our digital knowledge society.
Knowledge Commons Brasil comprises activists, academics, community media and technologists who have come together to engage with the NetMundial meeting in order to forge new principles and a road map for Internet governance.
The term ‘commons’ refers to resources accessible to all members of a society such as rivers, fisheries and forests, shared, used and enjoyed by all. These resources are held in common and not owned privately.
The concept has expanded to include literature, art, design, access to public services and utilities and access to traditional knowledge and information available digitally.
In today’s economy the generation and ‘exploitation’ of knowledge play a predominant part in the creation of wealth. One of the greatest commons of human existence is to communicate our abstract thoughts to one another, to modify, share, remix and reuse thought. Knowledge is the ultimate renewable resource that is not depleted by further use and the value is increased through sharing. Knowledge is more useful to society when un-monopolised and diffused.
The primary problem with the sharing of knowledge today is not an inability to deliver knowledge to people, it’s the artificial barriers placed on how we are allowed to produce, reproduce and deliver knowledge due to outmoded notions of the ‘ownership’ of ideas.
It is our belief that in the 21st century digital culture and economic life reward economies of collaboration. There is a need to ensure that methods of production shift from the present unsustainable and inefficient methods that rely on enclosing global commons and monetising access. We need to move to more social and democratic frameworks that will enhance the potential of human civilisation.
The Society for Knowledge Commons carries out activities in the following areas:
1. Copyright and patenting: Reform of patent and copyright systems is essential to increase and enhance access to knowledge in the Global South, to stop the restriction on information flows. The 20th century saw a dramatic increase in the privatisation of knowledge through the introduction and enhancement of patent and copyright regimes. The numerous problems with patenting systems include driving up costs of essential medicines, creating patent thickets, retarding innovation and growth by preventing incremental innovation. Solutions that could ensure cost effective, culturally significant, secure and innovative systems of development, such as the increased use of FOSS models, are ignored.
2. Protecting economic and cultural independence: The economic globalisation of the 20th century has enabled the exploitation of traditional knowledge by those with greater means. While traditional knowledge was usually ‘owned’ loosely by a community, attempts to enclose this knowledge (for instance by first world bio-tech companies who look for traditional cures amongst tribal populations) could lead to disastrous consequences for local communities – who not only see no commercial benefits but are also denied continued use of their own practices leading to an erosion of economic and cultural independence.
3. Free and Open Source Software: The growth of proprietary hardware and software systems is a threat to the potential of ICTs to act as a tool of knowledge dispersal. The Edward Snowden revelations clearly reveal that proprietary software can be used as a tool of espionage. The ownership of hardware and software systems by the global North ensures an unhealthy relationship with developing countries. Unequal revenues flow from the global south to the north exacerbating the North-South divide. The increasing tendency of telecommunication services to be monopolised and privitised (again largely by first world based corporations) negatively affects the way people can access information. The models of current regulation (or lack thereof) tend to favour the status quo rather than ensure greater and democratic access to information through the application of progressive and public interest principles.