One of the concerns often raised when studying the establishment of an international technical-scientific-economic order today is the possibility of creating new forms of domination, through information and communication technologies (ICTs). These disputes over economic and technological dominance would be even more prevalent in cutting edge areas, such as the internet of things – IoT and artificial intelligence – AI, for example, that promise to revolutionize social, work and legal relations, among other applications. However, what is often observed in these markets is the reproduction of old models of inequality, already present for a long time in relations between global North and South. The regime of protection of intellectual property, especially copyright, is symptomatic of a metropolis-colony logic, of legal obsolescence in the face of new technologies.
In this context, wouldn’t it be the role of Law to provide regulatory frameworks sufficiently broad to allow scientific and technological innovation, especially in copyright, in concomitance with the protection of the rights of truly innovative agents, who invest in, conduct research and make available to the market these creations? Why is the current copyright regime not in pace with current technology and our needs for access to knowledge?
We need to think in terms of development
If these practices of intellectual property protection, generally imposed by countries of the Global North on negotiating agendas of forums such as the World Trade Organization and, more recently, TRIPS-plus negotiations, to fuel protectionist rhetoric at the expense of a developmentalist practice, to promote accessibility and scientific knowledge in the Global South, why not also appropriate mechanisms to challenge these initiatives? To appropriate such discourses is also a way of giving greater scope for their effects, hoping to lay the groundwork for the future of more democratic technological governance of knowledge, especially in the midst of the technologies available today. Development, one must always remember, is the most basic and fundamental principle of the Doha Round, the Development Round.
Levels of protection beyond what is actually needed
Regarding the mechanisms of control and blocking access to scientific and technological knowledge in information and communication technologies, such as the breakdown of network neutrality, the protection of scientific data in restricted access databases, the management of domain names in a way to block contravening sites, accessibility and policies of restriction to innovation, there is a national assumption of these hyperprotective values also by countries of the Global South, as is the case of Brazil. Why should we protect 70 years beyond the life of the author, since the TRIPS Agreement required us “only” 50 years of protection?
It must be questioned, even if it made sense 50 years of protection, after the death of an author, to promote their works in the public domain in face of the new creative technologies available (reproduction and torrent distribution techniques, for examples), the reduction of the terms of the cycles of innovation and the the need for greater dissemination of creative works to developing or relatively less developed countries. In addition, the fallacy of the immediately direct relationship between protection and innovation has been increasingly deconstructed, relativized and demystified.
Innovation also in the means of exercising influence and power
The global information age invites us to think about new forms of influence and power. There is now an expansion of the concepts of technological and scientific power, also in the relationships intermediated by the world-wide computer network, especially with regard to access to knowledge in its electronic form (articles, journals, books and other specialized publications).
In addition to the traditional rhetoric of justification for disobedience and non-observance of intellectual property rights, specifically copyright, one must also consider the various ways and means by which the informational regulatory environment, information and communication technologies, also influence states and other subnational actors, producers of knowledge, in the adoption of political measures and specific behaviors. In other words, why not question the new forms of colonization of knowledge undertaken by the Global North, by restricting scientific and technological works?
A perverse reality: perennial and historical structural deficiencies
The exercise of power through this type of academic, scientific and technological choice, challenging the old regimes of copyright protection, has great potential in international relations, especially when exploited not to constrain and coerce, but to define, to understand and to measure state policies in order to gain attention, social acceptance, and effective transformation. When appropriated by Global South, and properly contextualized according to their limitations of infrastructure, technology and economic capacity, these legitimate exceptions to intellectual property rights can be part of the contemporary response to mapping demands, subsidizing public policies to expand digital accessibility to knowledge and mitigation of the “shadows of knowledge” in the Global South, which for a closer look can be traced back to the colonial period.
The counter-hegemony of access to knowledge in practice
In addition to the sumptuous salons of UN and G20 meetings, these are mechanisms that subsidize lobbying activities through popular politics, mobilization, transnational constraints, sensitization of the academic sector, international advocacy, among others. It is worth considering the effect of this recent proliferation of counter-systemic initiatives, such as creative commons licenses, portals such as Sci-Hub and Library Genesis, including global academic, scientific and technological production indices, as the same render old practice laws and treaties of intellectual property protection obsolete and can drive change and attract attention to issues of greater urgency. Provided that by observing minimum parameters of regularity, availability and transparency, it is possible to develop measures of access, challenge and questioning of the status quo author, as well as to examine its possible effectiveness through case studies, quantitative methods and an international agenda of greater influence on global norms and standards of intellectual property, especially in academic settings.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Institute for Research on Internet and Society.