Access to Knowledge 3: Opening Remarks

I’m at my first Access to Knowledge conference in Geneva and I’ve never felt so important. Walking to the Centre International de ConfĂ©rences in Geneva I passed the UN High Commission for Refugees and I’m sitting in an enormous tiered conference room with translation headphones and plush leather chairs. Maybe I’m easily impressed, but this is really my first exposure to influencing policy through any means other than academic idea generation and publication. A2K3 is held literally across the street from the World Intellectual Property Organization‘s headquarters and the focus is changing the global intellectual policy landscape.

So that means there are more lawyers and activists here than I am used to seeing at the usual academic conferences. The introductory remarks reflect this: Sisule Musungu lists the multitude of groups involved such as eiFL, EFF, OSI, for example. Google and Kaltura are the only corporate sponsors. Laura DeNardis, the executive director of Information Society Project at Yale (the group primarily responsible for A2K3) is giving opening remarks. Laura makes the point that technical standards contain deep political stances on knowledge sharing and dissemintation so the debate isn’t just about regulation any more. This means A2K is not just about laws and treaties, but also about the nature of the communciation technologies. Many of our discussions about net neutrality at Berkman note this fact, and in followup remarks Jack Balkin, the founding directory of the Yale ISP, makes this observation. He states that the A2K movement brings attention to much of International Trade Law that flies under most people’s radars, especially how it impacts the free flow of information, particularly on developing countries. A2K is at core about justice and human rights, since more and more wealth creation is coming from information tools in our information-driven world. This is clearly true: think of the success and power of Google – an information company. A2K is at least in part a reaction to the increasingly strong correlation between wealth and access to information. Balkin relates the FCC ruling preventing Comcast from discriminating between packets based on application or content, meaning that this movement is really about the decentralization of innovation: he states that without net neutrality innovation would be dominated by a small number of firms who would only allow innovations that benefit them directly. The A2K movement is about bringing more minds to solve our greatest problems, and this also engenders a debate about control, most deeply the control people can effect on their own lives: “will people be the master’s of themselves or will they be under the control of others?” The internet is a general purpose tool facilitating communication however people see fit, so the internet can be understood as a commons in that we can use it and build on it for our own self-determined purposes.