Access to Knowledge Conference (A2K Yale)

To coincide with the recent Asia Conference on the Digital Commons in Bangkok (June 6-8), I thought p2p foundation blog readers would appreciate hearing more about my recent trip to the Access to Knowledge (A2K) Conference that took place at Yale Law School between April 21-23 2006. According to Wikipedia: “The goals of Access to Knowledge are embodied in a draft treaty, emerging from a call from Brazil and Argentina for a development agenda for the World Intellectual Property Organization. The treaty is intended to ease the transfer of knowledge to developing nations, and to secure the viability of open innovation systems all over the world.

The Yale A2K conference was an important opportunity for the movement’s various actors to get together, share knowledge, build alliances and define future strategies. The proceedings kicked off with an impressive opening panel of speakers –“Framing A2K”– comprising Joel Mokyr (Northwestern University), John Howkins (The Adelphi Charter), Davinia Ovett (3D Three), Sisule Musungu (South Centre), Yochai Benkler (Yale Law) and Jack Balkin (Yale Law).

Yochai Benkler, professor at Yale Law School and author of the newly published Wealth of Networks delivered the stand-out speech of the three day event. In his address Benkler articulated his preferred vision for an A2K Draft treaty. He posed three questions “Why Now?, Why care? and What is to be Done?”. In answering the first he identified four long-term trends that differentiate this important historical moment: 1) Move from decolonization, to self-determination, to integration into a global trade system; 2) Rapid industrialization to rising capital intensity to an information knowledge economy; 3) Move from mass media to increasingly competitive media environment, to rise of netowrked information society; 4) From communism and statism to the ascendance of human rights, human dignity and participatory politics, development as freedom.

In answering the second question “Why Care?” Benkler linked acess to knowledge as a necessary ingredient to acheiving justice, freedom and human development: “we have seen the technological threshold conditions enable greater practical human agency, individual action, both commercial and noncommercial, and social sharing and exchange are emerging as major modalities of economy production, which,in turn, allow us to exercise greater individual autonomy and participate in an appreciably more participatory public sphere and in newly emerging practices of more participatory and critically self-reflective culture.

Finally in rensponse to the third question “What is to be Done?”, Benkler offered a tentative list: “Regulation of information production and exchange, like patents and copyrights is a central potential barrier to Access to Knowledge for all of these. Telecommunications, ICT policy, broadband, open spectrum, are necessary moves in assuring access the ability to participate in these practices. The battle over open standards in technology and regulation policy, which are under pressure from regulatory requirements to implement trusted systems or patents in standards, become a place where in technology the values of openness are being challenged…But no less important than that we focus on the legal mechanisms, we must focus on the possibilities for action within civil society, both in organized forms and in decentralized distributed practices using the very mechanisms that allow for the emergence of peer production as themselves ways of overcoming the barriers to Access to Knowledge.

Benkler’s impassioned presentation was an impressive rallying cry for the advancement of this nascent A2K movement. His concluding remarks emphasised the need to formulate new legal/policy frameworks, social practices and organisational forms that work towards the benefit of global society:

“We stand at the moment of opportunity. We have an opportunity to forge a practical, cultural and intellectual coalition at a moment of transformation. The stakes are high, the question is how should we be as free, equal, productive human beings in a global network information economy?”

Transcript of Benkler’s speech available here, along with A2K Conference site and Wiki.

Darren Sharp (

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