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Les Nouvelles de Bruxelles : The Changing Politics of the Knowledge Economy

The politics of the global knowledge economy are shifting: from mercantilism to co-operation, from closed commercial regimes toward open source. Last week, the European Parliament Committee on International Trade (INTA) passed a report recommending the rejection of the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Since the European Union (EU) and its 22 member states signed ACTA in January 2012, ACTA has caused nothing but consternation in Europe. Citizens of Poland, Bulgaria and the Germany took to the streets to show their opposition. These protests initiated a pan-European movement awakening the spirit of 1968. Young Europeans asked policy makers and politicians in Brussels to respect their rights, privacy and freedom on the Internet.

The ‘old continent’ woke up to what people in the global South have known and fought for over many years. Intellectual property (IP) is not merely a commercial or trade-related issue or something we can allow to be monopolized by corporations. It’s about us. It touches human life. IP rules can dictate how we access, disseminate and share knowledge, technology and information. They are not only about corporations and their interests. They are also about our internet freedom, privacy, scientific research, textbooks and journals, traditional and cultural knowledge, stewardship of biodiversity, arts and literature. The current orthodox IP standards, largely imposed by corporations, create exclusive controls over knowledge and information and have proved to be inadequate and frequently inappropriate in today’s knowledge-based economy.

What ACTA did – albeit inadvertently – was provide an impetus for a new vision of prioritizing people’s rights over IP fundamentalism in the 21st century. In recent decades, there has been a rush to over-regulate this relatively new and rather conceptually confusing form of property. The IP maximalist perspectives create modern juridical bureaucracies; monstrous, absurd legal procedures and protocols. From the perspective of people, the over-aggressive rules pushed through agreements like ACTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are understood as a declaration of war threatening personal rights and freedoms on the Internet and in our daily lives. This is why the people of Europe raised their voice to warn policy makers in Brussels about the inadequacy of the current IP maximalist model, which places IP monopolies at its heart instead of sharing or disseminating knowledge, technology or information.

The ‘war against piracy’ turned into a revolution against the corporate internet. Brussels could not stay indifferent to the outcry. First, the Committee on Legal Affairs (Juri), Committee on Civil Liberties (LIBE) and the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) voted to express “opinions against ACTA”. If three strikes weren’t enough, a vote in the Development Committee gave a fourth. Finally, on June 21 the trade committee (INTA) dealt a serious blow to ACTA. The INTA vote shows that European politicians increasingly understand we, the people, will not let healthcare and internet policy be dictated by a very few outdated corporate interests. Rather, we need forward-looking, flexible policies for technology, knowledge and creative works that unleash our human genius. ACTA is a retrograde policing approach to the knowledge economy: it promotes IP fundamentalism, it treats competition like criminality and the internet as a threat.

We cannot count ACTA out yet. The final voting in the European Parliament will be held on the 4th of July. The Fourth of July is an important day for Americans, which honors the birthday of the United States of America and the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. But it seems that it would also be a memorable day for the Europeans, honoring the sense of European citizenship in today’s knowledge economy based on the values of individual freedom, equality, tolerance, privacy and democracy .

Thanks to Peter Maybarduk for his contributions to this post.

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