Knowledge and Culture Commons
The emergence of new digital environments and low cost methods of replication and proliferation have transformed contemporary media experiences. Millions of people now have access to some form of communication technology, resulting in serious social conflicts around property rights over films and music in digital formats. Further, the emerging interface between communications technology and software is being registered at the ground level more than ever before: the entire VCD and Mp3 copy industry is software driven. On the one hand, if cheap copy culture has broadened people's access to communication and media forms, the new TRIPS based international legal regime seeks to restrict and regulate access by stronger laws an increased enforcement with dramatic raids and high profile court cases.
In this fast changing scenario there is not a single social science study on the impact of Intellectual Property Law changes on the expansion of media access and the experience of daily life in 1990s India. The discourse on Intellectual Property Law is dominated by consultancy firm reports on piracy, the rhetoric of legal firms committed to an increasingly unsuccessful enforcement regime and dramatic journalism documenting intellectual property violations. As a result the entire debate on intellectual property (policy, legislation and newspaper reports) rests on an extremely thin research base. Not surprisingly this discourse has nothing to say about the complex and unequal social arrangements which shape media and computer cultures and meanings involved in the localities and neighborhoods of urban India, where so much of media is consumed and distributed.
ALF and Sarai have come together on a cross-disciplinary collaborative research project "Intellectual property and the Knowledge/ Culture Common" in March 2002. Despite our diverse backgrounds, we recognize the central role that intellectual property laws play in the globalised 'knowledge economy', and that in the near future intellectual property will be one of the most significant sites of conflict over the production and control of knowledge and culture.
The ALF- Sarai project combines social science, ethnographic and legal research to explore the following issues:
How intellectual property issues have been shaped by social and cultural practices around communications technologies in contemporary India. These include the new urban networks and markets that allow easy distribution and exhibition of a new constellation of media products: video CDs and DVDs, audiotapes and CDs, media software and cable television.
The nature of the legal regime emerging around IPL: policy change, law enforcements and piracy debates, dramatic enforcement efforts, emerging jurisprudence in the lower courts, and the lobbying by law firms around IPL.
Legal innovations to overcome the limits of US style enforcement, and to creatively address the large informal networks of media distribution in India. These include public domain architectures, open licences and registries, and a dialogue with open source practices. We seek to read licenses, not merely as legal documents but as cultural documents? We will attempt to survey the various innovative licensing mechanisms that have arisen after the GNU GPL.
We aim to conduct our research by developing a body of critical practitioners around our work and placing our work in the public domain.
It is critical for us that we build a strong community that contributes to the debate on intellectual property and contemporary practices. We maintain an email discussion list email@example.com , which has seen an active community developing around the issues of IP and the public domain. The archive of the list contains interesting debates on culture and IP in India and the world, and is available at