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Dissembly Language: Unzipping the World Summit on the Information Society

category international | sci-tech | opinion/analysis author Tuesday October 28, 2003 21:36author by hydrarchist - slash.autonomedia.org Report this post to the editors

Background to the World Summit non the Information Society, introduction to the project of Geneva03, intellectual property and the counter-offensive from below.

The http://www.geneva03.org is now fully active in many countries across Europe, Korea, the U.S., Canada and beyond. As yet it seems that there is nothing happening in Ireland. The campaign does not insist that everyone go to Geneva nor does it end in December, rather the idea is to provoke decentralised actions and open a discussion linking a series of themes which we believe to be key to understanding the present: media control, intellectual property, work (both casualized and immaterial) and migration. Obvioulsy these are not the only elements required to make sense of the changing world we inhabit, but they constutute some key elements. Ideas, proposals?

Dissembly Language: Unzipping the World Summit on the Information Society

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) has already attracted the attention of the critical media community. Here, A.T. examines what's at stake at the Summit and how its agenda reflects changes in the post- industrial location of power, describing some working strategies for intervention in the WSIS process from 'independent' and contestatory communications groups formed outside last year's European Social Forum


We begin with a tale of two terms: the well aired and well known 'Information Society', and its rather furtive and less well known relation, 'intellectual property' (IP). One of the decade's great shibboleths, 'Information Society' was a phrase recycled throughout the '90s by policy hacks, academics and gurus alike. Employed variously to herald the expansion of digital networks, the permeation of labour by information processes, and the shift from tangible to intangible goods, 'Information Society' seemed to imply something inexorable, a consequence of the massive mediatisation of the preceding years, outside any one set of strategic interests - something, we were constantly reminded, 'we would all have to adapt to.'

What this rhetoric largely occluded was the wave of expansionist intellectual property laws which accompanied the 'informaticisation' of society. These legal constraints, at whose epicentre sits the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), annex to the General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs (GATTs), have served a very strategic set of interests within the post-industrial scene. They have effectively reversed the notional role of IP laws from the protection of cultural production and scientific/technological innovation to the limitation of these creative forces, and served to fix relations between advanced post-industrial states and the former 'third world'. They have done this by creating copyright monopolies which drive concentration of ownership, push up costs of entry into markets, and exclude effective activity for many independent actors.

Advanced 'post-industrial' states now compel others to observe legal norms that effectively disallow certain forms of innovation, production and organisation. The states thus impacted are effectively limited, through control over invention and information, to a role as factors in the system of global production that has the major powers of the North at its centre. The agreements ensure that even where production is transferred to these areas due to lower labour and production costs, the profits continue to flow to New York, London and Zurich.

Copyright laws protect commerce from competition and from its own customers, allowing it to charge a rent on the past which finances domination of markets in the present and which, in turn, is taken to guarantee the future. This putative guarantee comes at a certain price: software licenses checked at gunpoint in Brazil; 40 people arrested in Madrid in a swoop on pirate CD/DVD network (industry lobbyists insist such operations bankroll terrorism); a Russian software engineer arrested and jailed in the United States after a conference presentation of his work before thousands; indigenous Indians in Chiapas rioting after a police raid on a market of infringing goods; an 18-year-old Norwegian prosecuted for enabling a Linux based DVD player; American citizens sharing music prosecuted as felons; university researchers charged with criminal trade secrets offences for publishing knowledge derived from their own research works; China summarily executing trademark pirates as disciplinary examples. In AIDS-ravaged sub- Saharan Africa and Asia, pharmaceutical companies have instigated actions through the WTO and in national courts to prevent the cheap manufacture of the anti-retrovirals necessary for people to survive. Where once corpses accumulated to the advance of colonialism or the indifference of commodity capital, now they hang in the profit and loss scales of Big Pharma, actuarially accounted for and calculated against licensing and royalty revenue. With the aid of stringent IP law, companies are able exercise a biopolitical control that takes to new extremes the tendency to liberate capital by restricting individual and collective freedoms and rights - even the right to life itself. Intellectual property rules reflect the diffuse nature of exploitation in the modern social factory, taxing our access to health, self-development and leisure rather than simply extracting surplus from labour.

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