Key question about the shape of the knowledge economy.

Hidden in the policy discussions about Patents, Copyright, Trademarks (PCT) and other related exclusive rights is a key question about the shape of the emerging knowledge economy. It comes down to a metaphor for the roll of knowledge:

Is the relationship of knowledge in the knowledge economy like products in the industrial economy,


is knowledge in the knowledge economy like machines in the industrial economy?

If you believe the former, then you will treat knowledge increasingly as a form of property and draw larger and stronger legal and other boundaries around it.

If you believe the latter then you will treat knowledge as something that will improve other aspects of the economy, and seek to make it cheaper to obtain to maximize the benefits for a maximum number of people. In the case of knowledge it has a natural zero marginal cost to the producer, so in a free market the marginal cost to the recipient can approach (and in many cases be) that zero marginal cost. This would further lead you to promote methods of production, distribution and funding that is free of marginal costs.

In my first submission to the federal government in 2001 I asked the question: A new economy, or a new product from the old economy?

Cory Doctorow put it this way in a recent Guardian article:

The thinking is simple: an information economy must be based on buying and selling information. Therefore, we need policies to make it harder to get access to information unless you've paid for it.

That means that we have to make it harder for you to share information, even after you've paid for it. Without the ability to fence off your information property, you can't have an information market to fuel the information economy.

But this is a tragic case of misunderstanding a metaphor. Just as the industrial economy wasn't based on making it harder to get access to machines, the information economy won't be based on making it harder to get access to information.

We should be asking which metaphor a politician is basing their policy thinking on.

Chris Brand made reference to the US presidential candidates. Barack Obama has a principles document: Technology and Innovation for a New Generation. While his support for Net Neutrality is often mentioned in the media, his views on PCT are far more critical and puts him clearly in the "knowledge as product" camp that will work to further harm the US economy.

Protect American Intellectual Property Abroad: The Motion Picture Association of America estimates that in 2005, more than nine of every 10 DVDs sold in China were illegal copies. The U.S. Trade Representative said 80 percent of all counterfeit products seized at U.S. borders still come from China. Barack Obama will work to ensure intellectual property is protected in foreign markets, and promote greater cooperation on international standards that allow our technologies to compete everywhere.

Protect Intellectual Property at Home: Intellectual property is to the digital age what physical goods were to the industrial age. Barack Obama believes we need to update and reform our copyright and patent systems to promote civic discourse, innovation and investment while ensuring that intellectual property owners are fairly treated.

Based on these two statements alone I would consider Obama to be dangerous to the future of the US economy, and wouldn't consider voting for him if I were a US citizen.

I think governments in general have a bad track record of choosing business models and trying to have a managed economy, but imposing wrong-headed business models is exactly what came out of the Clinton/Gore NII process a decade and a half ago which is furthered by folks like Obama.

Where does your MP stand on this critical question?

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That's useful

A nice comparison that gets straight to the crux of the matter.

Imagine the industrial economy with free (gratis) machines !


Ned Ludd

I also find the analogy can be taken further. As we entered the Industrial era, there were people who were concerned that these machines were replacing jobs. While it was true that new jobs that were not possible were being created, and most now believe there were more new jobs than were replaced by machines, this still lead some people to "smash the machines".

One name that was brought forward at that time was Ned Ludd.

Whether this person actually existed or not, I wonder if there are people who are the equivalent in this economic transition.

I'm listening to University of Ottawa Technology Law courses (they have a podcast) and there is talk about regulatory takings where the government regulates property to such an extent that it is similar to actually taking the property away. Taking away private owner-control of information technology is such a taking in my mind -- and those behind anti-circumvention, Broadcast Flag, or other such legislation can be said to be equivalent to those "smashing" the machines at our entry to the industrial economy.

In the past I might have said Bruce Lehman (primary author of the NII working group paper), but Michael Geist has already quoted him as currently believing that these Clinton/Gore era policies were seriously flawed. While he was the lead of the policy that lead to the 1996 WIPO treaties, he is clearly not the person pushing it now.

We have the US ambassador to Canada, and the current heads of the USPTO and USTR. But are these leaders, or followers, of the ideology?

We have people like Graham Henderson. He appears like a worker afraid for his job, and he is not actually thinking about the bigger picture of what is happening in the economy. He sees a problem, has (incorrectly) assigned blame, and is now simply angry.

Maybe the "leader" of this movement may turn out to be fictional as well, and that there are people wanting to smash technology without actually understanding why they are doing this, or whether anything they are doing can possibly help their cause.

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

Information as resource

I came across this and felt it might add to this posting. It is a view of how information (the root of knowledge?)can be viewed as different to resources of the past.
- expands as it is used unlike other resources
- less hungry for other resources – the higher the tech, the less energy and raw materials seem to be needed.
- can, and increasingly does, replace land, labour, and capital.
- easily transportable — at almost the speed of light
- transparent - It leaks and the more it leaks, the more we have, and the more of us have it. Bosses might be the last to know!
- shared, not “exchanged.” - both parties still have it after they have shared it

Such a different resource requires a different way of thinking, not only in terms of use, but in terms of the structures within which it is best used. The old "pyramid" structure may not be well suited to the development or best uses of knowledge. However the people making the decisions have grown within the pyramid and may find it hard to see that.

Obama and MANY others so often show that their limitations in terms of the required changes in thinking. Maybe thinking outside the box is not exactly what we need - we need people who can think outside the pyramid.