Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Intellectual property and philanthropy

The thinking in my last real post, on invention and innovation, was stirred up again by yesterday's (June 14th) New York Times, which ran several stories in the business section on related topics.

First up, a piece on how the Finnish Technology Award Foundation has granted Tim Berners-Lee a million dollar plus Millennium award for his work in conceiving of the World Wide Web and making sure that it was built around license-free technology. What isnotable about this story is the role the philanthropic dollars play in celebrating the freedom afforded to us all by Berners-Lee's approach, not its investment in making his work possible in the first place. The story does a nice job of describing just how significant his "patent-free" approach was in how we all intereact with the Internet today. Given that he was working for the European Particle Physics Lab at the time of hid invention, registering for a patent and requiring licenses would have been the more traditional course.

Second, and the same page in the Times, was a story on the costs to one researcher to his funder (The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) when he sought proper licenses for the video clips he collected in a medical educatioN DVD. The story, Permissions on Digital Media Drive Scholars to Lawbooks explains that the DVD's use of tv and movie footage cost $17,000 in fees and royalties and took months to navigate the different laws and requirements. All for 3 minutes of footage. The result (besides the DVD) is a conference called "Knowledge Held Hostage: Scholarly versus Corporate Rights in the Digital Age," that will look at the implications for fair use of information now that the questions are far more complicated than xeroxing (or to avoid a trademark dispute, let me change that to copying) course readers.

So how do we want our philanthropic dollars spent on knowledge? As fees to television studios for reprint permissions? To create knowledge for the commons? To protect the rights of artists and creators and their ability to earn just rewards for their creativity? The list of links on this blog under Open Source links present several organizations that are dealing with these issues. Please see, in particular, Creative Commons and Public Knowledge. And let me know what you think.


The Happy Tutor said...

Important issues. We want philanthropy, some of us do, to create and protect a number of commons. Do you know the work of David Bollier? http://www.bollier.org He has written eloquently on the commons. One of the hopes for gifthub is to bring into the mix some nontraditional players, like open source software developers, who are committed to the information commons. One of the best essays on the civic info commons is by Jan Hauser and others, Augmented Social Network. http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue8_8/jordan/

Thanks for the link to WB. The link is broken, though. You might just link me as "The Happy Tutor" and use http://www.wealthbondage.com. "Philanthorpy, Weblogs and Democracy" is not a bad tagline. WB is not a wealth bondage bordello, by the way; it is an elite conservative think tank, funded by the usual wealthy nuts and cranks, and as such quite reputable, even posh. You have nothing to be ashamed of visiting our establishment. Just wear a costume and a mask. Carnival. (Think Rabelais and the Feast of Fools.)

Seriously, your thoughts on a new market for philanthropic capital are very important. The liberal foundations ("Sleepwalkers," Peter Karoff calls them) have not funded the commons, or taken the initiative in protecting them from the strategic philanthropy and public policy strategems of the radical right. Where will the funding be found for new initiatives to build out the commons, initiatives like Jan Hauser's? How do we bring together the funders, activists, and volunteers? How to we make "a market" or develope a "mixer" to help them find one another?

I hope you will post on such topics. As you know there is plenty of nontraditional money around, at Fidelity and elsewhere. How do we get it into the game in making more imaginative gifts?

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