Book of the Day: Conflicts in the Knowledge Society

* Book: Conflicts in the Knowledge Society: The Contentious Politics of Intellectual Property. Sebastian Haunss.Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013

Excerpted from a review by Eden Medina:

“In Conflicts in the Knowledge Society, Sebastian Haunss studies the most visible movements that have challenged international intellectual property (IP) regimes. He positions the growing politicization of IP as part of a more expansive process of social change that social theorists have historically associated with the transition from an industrial to a knowledge society. Haunss opts to use the phrase “knowledge society” instead of such terms as information society or network society because knowledge society is “the most generic term, capturing the central element that distinguishes these societies from earlier forms” (p. 4). According to Haunss, four factors have increased the politicization of IP in recent years: the increasing economic importance of knowledge-based industries; the growing internationalization of IP issues; the greater attention IP issues receive in non-specialist and high-level forums; and the trend toward personalizing IP rules so that they affect end users as well as producers and sellers. Though Haunss does not list the signing of the 1994 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) as a causal factor, the treaty plays an important role in his analysis.

The book is organized into seven chapters, including an introduction and a conclusion. Three chapters document case studies of highly visible challenges to IP regimes. This includes studies of software patents in Europe, the access-to-medicines movement, pirate parties in Germany and Sweden, and the history of Creative Commons (CC) licensing.

Haunss provides the analytical context for these case-study chapters with two preceding chapters: one on the history of international IP and the other on theories of the knowledge society. These history and theory chapters constitute slightly less than half the volume.
The history chapter traces the politicization of IP fromthe high and late Middle Ages to the signing of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Intellectual Property (1883) and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886) to TRIPS. The chapter also introduces the reader to copyrights and patents, two of the more contested forms of IP at present, and offers an overview of the different narratives that have been used to justify IP rights historically (e.g., personal rights narratives and different forms of the utilitarian argument).The next chapter focuses on social theory. Readers who are already familiar with the work of such scholars as Daniel Bell, Manuel Castells, and Nico Stehr may wish to skip this chapter given that it is mostly a synthesis of previously published work on the knowledge society. Those who are unfamiliar with these theories, however, may and Haunss’s detailed discussion highly useful. In essence, Haunss wants readers to understand how different theorists have described processes of change and con?ict as societies move from economies grounded in industrial forms of production to economies grounded in the production of knowledge.

The book then turns to a series of four case studies in three chapters. The first case-study chapter addresses the controversy surrounding software patents in Europe. Haunss mobilizes an impressive corpus of source materials to build his argument, including 170 newspaper articles published in Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Poland, several hundred primary source documents, 25 interviews, and a questionnaire he distributed to actors involved in the controversy. The software patent con?ict of 1997–2005 centered on whether the European Patent Of?ce (EPO) should allow the patenting of software. The EPO and the European Commission felt that this would harmonize European legislation with that of the United States and Japan and remove what Europe’s large industrial associations perceived as an economic disadvantage. The push to make software patentable, however, triggered a counter-response from a diverse set of actors, including the newly formed Federation for Free Information Infrastructure, the EuroLinux Alliance, and the free and open-source software community. These oppositional voices lacked ties to the relevant policy organizations and had less experience and fewer resources than the industry proponents. Yet, they prevailed.According to Haunss, the opposition groups succeeded by creating a “frame bundle” that formed the basis of a collective identity and held together a diverse set of actors from different political, institutional, and personal backgrounds. In this sense, his book draws from, and sits in conversation with, the work of such legal scholars as Amy Kapczynski (2008), who used the frame mobilization literature in sociology to explore how acts of interpretation can spur collective action in the context of IP.”

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