Information feudalism: Who owns the knowledge economy? A book review

Rimmer, Matthew (2003) Information feudalism: Who owns the knowledge economy? A book review. Prometheus.

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Abstract

Back in 1995, Peter Drahos wrote a futuristic article called ‘Information feudalism in the information society’. It took the form of an imagined history of the information society in the year 2015. Drahos provided a pessimistic vision of the future, in which the information age was ruled by the private owners of intellectual property. He ended with the bleak, Hobbesian image:

"It is unimaginable that the information society of the 21st century could be like this. And yet if abstract objects fall out of the intellectual commons and are enclosed by private owners, private, arbitrary, unchecked global power will become a part of life in the information society. A world in which seed rights, algorithms, DNA, and chemical formulas are owned by a few, a world in which information flows can be coordinated by information-media barons, might indeed be information feudalism (p. 222)."

This science fiction assumed that a small number of states would dominate the emerging international regulatory order set up under the World Trade Organization.

In Information Feudalism: Who Owns the Knowledge Economy?, Peter Drahos and his collaborator John Braithwaite reprise and expand upon the themes first developed in that article. The authors contend:

"Information feudalism is a regime of property rights that is not economicallyefficient, and does not get the balance right between rewarding innovation and diffusing it. Like feudalism, it rewards guilds instead of inventive individual citizens. It makes democratic citizens trespassers on knowledge that should be the common heritage of humankind, their educational birthright. Ironically, information feudalism, by dismantling the publicness of knowledge, will eventually rob the knowledge economy of much of its productivity (p. 219)."

Drahos and Braithwaite emphasise that the title Information Feudalism is not intended to be taken at face value by literal-minded readers, and crudely equated with medieval feudalism. Rather, the title serves as a suggestive metaphor. It designates the transfer of knowledge from the intellectual commons to private corporation under the regime of intellectual property.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 86772
Item Type: Other
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: Intellectual Property and Innovation Law Research Group
DOI: 10.1080/0810902032000050000
ISSN: 1470-1030
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Law
Current > Schools > School of Law
Deposited On: 21 Aug 2015 06:34
Last Modified: 06 Oct 2015 05:20

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