Danny Yee >> Free Software Advocacy

Information as a global public good:
a right to knowledge and communication

This was an (unsuccessful) proposal for an Oxfam International advocacy campaign, to run 2002 to 2004: its layout follows that requested in the call for submissions, hence some of the odd terminology and "internal" references.

The current Oxfam Make Trade Fair campaign covers some "information" issues, in particular concerns about patents.

"More stringent protection for patents will increase the costs of technology transfer. Developing countries will lose approximately $40bn a year in the form of increased licence payments to Northern-based TNCs, with the USA capturing around one-half of the total. Behind the complex arguments about intellectual-property rights, the TRIPs agreement is an act of institutionalised fraud, sanctioned by WTO rules." Read more [DEAD http://www.maketradefair.com/stylesheet.asp?file=03042002154412].
Oxfam International campaign proposal (May 2000)

	You will note that this document is written in plain ascii,
	rather than being a Word document as requested.  If there is
	to be genuine grass-roots participation in Oxfam International
	campaigns, all the communications and information required
	for such participation must be available to everyone -- not
	dependent on access to proprietary software which costs more
	than the annual income of a quarter of the planet's population.

1. Name of Campaign

Information as a global public good:
A right to knowledge and communication

2. Proposed by / Contact details

Ronni Martin - ronnim@caa.org.au
	acting advocacy coordinator, Community Aid Abroad Oxfam Australia
Danny Yee - danny@www.caa.org.au
	webmaster, Community Aid Abroad Oxfam Australia
George Grisancich - georgeg@caa.org.au
	information technology manager, Community Aid Abroad Oxfam Australia

3. Proposition

'Knowledge is now the critical component to production, and access to
it represents a key divide between rich and poor.' (OI ACC Planning
Papers).  Increasingly, information and tools for manipulating and
communicating information are controlled ("owned") by individuals or
corporations rather than being public goods available to everyone.
The Oxfams should work to change policies of governments, multilaterals
and companies which are driving this appropriation, in order to avoid
the creation and exacerbation of inequalities in access to information.
This is essential to ensure that women and men world-wide, now and in the
future, are able to play a full part in the global society and economy.

4.Goals of Campaign 

* to pressure governments and multilateral organisations to adopt policies
and legislation that favour the maintainance of public information
resources and free and open communications.

* to encourage attempts to build and maintain open information resources,
as public goods freely accessible and usable by all.

* to promote the sharing of information through global campaigning

5. Link to Strategic Change Objectives (SCOs)

This proposal specifically addresses the OI Global SCO 4.1: Achievement
of civil and political rights; effective voice in influencing decisions;
support to exercise these rights effectively.

The proposal will also contribute to achieving other SCOs. Global SCO
1.2: Paid employment, dignified working conditions, labour rights
and opportunities to benefit from alternative economic models.
There is a direct connection through employment increasingly moving
to information-based sectors of the economy, but the appropriation of
basic scientific and cultural information, changing them from public
goods into private property, threatens traditional ways of life
and the autonomy of both workers and consumers.

6. Nature and scale of the problem 

An increasing portion of the world's production and trade involves
information and the exchange of information.  Traditional media (film,
publishing, music) have been joined by a rapidly expanding Internet
sector.  And increasingly "old" and "new" media are coming together,
in such events as the recent AOL-Time Warner merger.

The changes brought by an information economy are profound, arguably as
significant as those wrought by the industrial revolution.  They will
affect the lives of everyone, even those not immediately involved.

	Finally, the core product in this sector - information -
	has unique attributes, not shared by others. The steel used
	to construct a building, or the boots worn by the workers
	constructing it, cannot be consumed by anyone else. Information is
	different. Not only is it available for multiple uses and users,
	it becomes more valuable the more it is used. The same is true of
	the networks that link up different sources of information. We
	in the policy-making world need to understand better how the
	economics of information differs from the economics of inherently
	scarce physical goods - and use it to advance our policy goals."

 	The Secretary General's Millenium Report (159)

And information and communications are also an essential component of
the development process itself.  As the United Nations Sustainable
Development Networking Program says: "Information and Communication
Technologies are now fundamental to dealing with all development issues
in developing countries."

But who will control the critical components of the information economy?

A good deal of the world's primary resources are located in the poorer
countries of the world's "South", even if their exploitation is often in
the hands of external corporations.  Systems for controlling information
and its distribution, on the other hand are (like possession of capital)
overwhelmingly centralised in the rich "North".  And the trend of changes
in international and national intellectual "property" law has been
steadily towards favouring large corporations: in practice, for example,
copyright law is only a useful tool to those with the resources to use it.

Some of the key areas involved are:

* the Internet as a public communication system

The Internet is an example of a communications system built on open
rather than proprietary protocols and technology.  While barriers to
Internet access are a major problem, these are far less of a problem
than they would be if key elements of Internet technology were owned by
individual corporations.  It is vital that this openness be protected,
otherwise those currently without access may find it priced forever out
of their reach.

* biotechnology (and pharmaceuticals)

The Green Revolution clearly demonstrated the hazards of allowing
agribusiness to dictate development policy and control agriculture.
Like the Green Revolution, biotechnology promises great benefits at nearly
no cost, but threatens to increase inequalities and reduce the autonomy of
farmers.  Biotech firms and pharmaceutical companies are identifying and
then patenting indigenous knowledge and Southern biodata: this "ownership"
of information appropriates what was previously common knowledge and
turns it the private property of an elite.  Particularly preposterous
is ownership of genetic code and the uncompensated appropriation of seed
varieties from the locals who have developed them over generations.

* free software

NGOs and Southern people's organizations are often forced to utilize
illegally copied proprietary software, leaving them vulnerable to
intimidation and manipulation through corporate and government threats
to 'enforce software licenses'.  Such software also creates long-term
dependencies for support, maintainance and upgrades.  With free
software, in contrast, users have the freedom to make modifications
to suit their own needs, to build new tools using existing ones, and
to share with others.  The free software movement has demonstrated,
through the creation of systems such as GNU/Linux and others, that there
are alternatives to proprietary software systems that force users into
relations of dependency.

* databases and public vs private information

Information on the Internet is mostly freely accessible; libraries hold
large quantities of information which they can make available to all
comers.  This information is often essential for communities, activists,
and researchers.  But corporations are attempting to restrict public
information and the freedoms to use information, in order to create
information monopolies that can be used to extract larger profits.
For poor women and men, often the only information they will be able to
use is that that is public or available under universal access rights
(or potentially that obtained by illegal copying and use): the pricing
for proprietary information invariably places it out of the reach of
the poorest.

* predatory patents 

The patent system is out of control.  Companies are being granted patents
on ideas which are obvious and then using them to suppress competition
and monopolise ideas, in a manner totally at variance with the original
justification for patents.  And the WIPO Patent Law Treaty will, if not
stopped, force Northern patent systems on the rest of the world.  We need
to make sure that patents are not used to 'own' ways of doing things
that are central to production, communication, culture, or basic science.

7. Political analysis 

We need to ensure that the foundations of the info-systems that will
dominate the coming century are open, are genuine "global public goods"
and not the property of individuals or corporations.

It is important to ensure that access to information is equitable to
prevent a concentration of information power which could dominate all
communities financially and politically. This concentration is presently
being assisted by a global trade and investment framework which favours
large monopolistic northern companies.  In particular, WIPO supports
the agenda of powerful companies who want to appropriate traditional
knowledge and public information goods for their own commercial gain.

	This is the context for intellectual property rights enforcement.
	This world market in knowledge is a major and profoundly
	anti-democratic new stage of capitalist development. The
	transformation of knowledge into property necessarily implies
	secrecy: common knowledge is no longer private. In this new
	and chilling stage, communication itself violates property
	rights. The WTO is transforming what was previously a universal
	resource of the human race - its collectively, historically and
	freely-developed knowledge of itself and nature - into a private
	and marketable force of production.
	[Allan Freeman, in "Fixing up the world?  GATT and the World Trade

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for the formation of a UN
Technology Service to give training in Internet use in his "Millennium"
report. Some donors are already funding projects in this area. USAID
is spending $15 million over 5 years on the Africa Global Information
Infrastructure Project.  And the World Bank's InfoDev project is
driving the uptake of information and communication technologies in
the developing world.  By 2002 much of the world may already have the
communications infrastructure in place.  But we need to monitor this
process and take action to ensure that with access to the Net come the
rights to access and use information -- for everyone, not just an elite.

8. Change Objectives 

8.1. To ensure that fundamental scientific and cultural information
remains a public good, without being commercialised or access and use
of it otherwise restricted.

* to ensure that governments and multilaterals framing copyright laws and
treaties for the next millennium e.g. WIPO treaties and agreements (such
as TRIPS), various "Digital Millennium Copyright Acts" do not compromise
the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens and organisations acting
in the public interest.

* to obtain reform of patent legislation, national and international:
to prevent patenting of genomes, plant varieties, and traditional
medicinal products by biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies; to
prevent appropriation of algorithms and ideas through software patents.

* to encourage legislative support for open protocols and free software
(cf proposed French law at http://www.osslaw.org/pr_en.html)

* to encourage and publicise initiatives by NGOs to build alternative
information resources that are public goods, e.g. local seed-banks,
generic pharmaceuticals, open human genome projects, the free software
movement, project Gutenberg.

* to encourage the adoption and extension of ethical trading and
appropriate technology policies which cover informational products.

8.2. To promote participation by civil society in multilateral
intellectual property processes and by southern individuals and
organisations in NGO forums and processes.

* Demand open disclosure of all WIPO and WTO processes and activities.

* Support and advocate for extension of existing programs to increase
access to information and communication technologies in the South
(eg the UNDP's Sustainable Development Network Programme initiative,
IDRC's Bellanet, PAN).

* Assist Southern organisations to access information on, and participate
in, existing NGO forums and other consultation processes.

* Set up and maintain issues-based forums and discussion lists which
include partner organisations and other Southern activists.  Actively
recruit and encourage women to participate, perhaps through womens'
discussion groups.

9. Influencing opportunities 

* WIPO meetings
* WTO meetings - annual 
* ITU meetings - global and regional
* OECD - active in intellectual property
* WSSD 10 year review in 2005 
* Decade for Eradication of Poverty 1997-2004- reporting processes.  
* UN days - e.g. World Telecommunications Day, International Literacy Day.  
* regional meetings - APEC Tel Working Group, EU
* the ICANN domain name governance process

10 Victims

* Information-poor women and men, and organisations and communities,
deprived of the opportunity to fully participate in the governance,
economy and communication systems of their communities.  Their options
now and in the future will be circumscribed if critical portions of
human knowledge are proprietary.

* Indigenous and other people whose traditional knowledge is appropriated
by others for commercial gain, often without compensation.

* NGOs, both North and South, who can't learn from each others'

11 Villains 

* WIPO, WTO, governments implementing intellectual "property" legislation
and treaties that favour large corporations (e.g. the WTO Trade related
Intellectual Property Agreement, TRIPs).

* "information hoarders" - corporations trying to obtain total control
over key intellectual properties in order to control entire markets:
e.g. pharmaceutical, biotechnology, software, and media companies.
The lobby groups of such corporations.

* Repressive governments and other elites unwilling to allow open

12 Heroes 

Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and the GNU

Indigenous rights movements.


13. Potential allies 

* indigenous rights movements
* seed-banks and heritage varieties conservers, organic farmers 
* companies hurt by the information monopolies of others, seeking a
  genuine "level playing field" in which to compete.
* the Free Software Foundation 
* scientists doing open, public research; community-based participatory
  research approaches
* Freedom of Information activists 
* the UN Sustainable Development Networking Programme (UNDP/SNDP)
* NGOs and development organisations creating and providing access to
  information resources (e.g. PAN networking - IDRC)
* UNESCO Communication Information and Informatics Group
* The Internet Society (ISOC) 
* Global Internet Liberty Coalition (GILC)
* Association for Progressive Communications

14. Advocacy targets and decision makers 

Multilateral organisations, most notably the World Intellectual Property
Organisation (WIPO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Funders of development programmes such as the World Bank's InfoDev.

Governments, especially those of the European Union and the United States.

Large corporates.

15. Potential opponents 

Transnational companies who are profiting from controlling and
commercialising information - and their organised lobby groups.  (Possible
examples: Monsanto, Microsoft, the Business Software Association, the
Recording Industry Association of America, ...)  Multilaterals and
governments relying on secrecy or control of information for their
power, or in the pockets of large corporations and their lobby groups.
Elites in southern countries.

16. Global salience 

Existing Oxfam supporters will be enthusiastic about the campaign as the
issue is one common to North and South: the maintainance of a central
core of public information freely usable by all is also critical for
unemployed, rural people, and women (among others) in the developed world.

Campaigns around the MAI and Jubilee 2000 have demonstrated that there
is widespread concern around the world about the way the global economic
system is functioning -- and also the power of open communication systems
in activism.  This campaign would build on this, targeting multilaterals
such as WIPO as well as the WTO, WB, and IMF.

This campaign has significant opportunities to reach out to new
supporters, financial and ideological, in the ICT industry - both
workers and businesses. It should also appeal to younger people who
are accustomed to using Internet communication. The practical aspects
of Oxfams 'leading by example' provide many opportunities for volunteer
involvement in developing and implementing systems, providing training,
and in participating in discussion forums. These activities will create
a motivated constituency for external activism.

The campaign has the potential to create the OI vision of a global popular
campaigning network, linking our advocacy and program work and positioning
us as a global movement for participatory sustainable development.


Contributions by:
	Mike Gifford
	James Howison
	Richard Stallman

Note: this is not a formal Oxfam Community Aid Abroad document.

There was some discussion of this on Slashdot.

Free Software Advocacy << Danny Yee