Information Feudalism - Who Owns the Knowledge Economy?
Peter Drahos with John Braithwaite
October 2002, Paperback, 272 pages, ISBN:1853839175
This book by Professor Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite of the
Australian National University is a spin-off from their previous major
academic work "Global Business Regulation" (722 pages) published by
Cambridge University Press.
In "Information Feudalism" they focus on the role of patents,
copyright and trademarks in creating cartels and monopolies throughout
the 20th century in numerous areas of industry -- chemical,
pharmaceutical, electronics, biotechnology,
software and entertainment. The book draws on hundreds of interviews
conducted with major players in business and government, both in
industrialized and developing countries.
A large part of the book examines the TRIPS Agreement and explains
how representatives from a small number of multinational corporations
were able to force their agenda onto developing nations through
political lobbying in Washington for trade sanctions against their opponents.
For those interested in free software the book also covers the
process by which copyright was imposed on software by IBM and others
during the 1980's (Chapter 11, Infogopolies). Although it is not
widely remembered today, prior to this period all software was free
software --- there was no copyright on software. This is a fairly
short part of the book but contains the relevant details.
The final chapters on "Resisting the New Inequality" and "On the
Importance of the Publicness of Knowledge" should be of interest to
everyone who is concerned about the on-going attempts to appropriate
public knowledge for monopolistic purposes.
In these chapters the authors set out their thesis that
political power combined with the false idea
of a "right" to ownership of knowledge as property, without regard to public
welfare, leads to a form of feudalism in an information society.
See also a
review by Matthew Rimmer of the Faculty of Law, at the Australian
This book was recommended to me by Ciaran O'Riordan via his webpage.