The consumer group organisation Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD) has organised a really interesting conference in Brussels. Today and tomorrow, about 130 participants will listen to panels and discuss among themselves. Most of the attendants come from the reform-oriented side of the debate, but there are some traditionally minded patent and copyright attorneys as well. As they’re asking their usual questions (though usually in a more constructive spirit than at WIPO), this is a nice training ground for debates.
In the opening panel, Peter Drahos (I highly recommend his excellent books gave an excellent presentation about the historical and intellectual background of the system of intellectual monopoly rights.
He explained the concept of negative and positive Commons: In the negative Commons, nothing is owned by anyone, but everyone is allowed to appropriate valuable assets. In the positive Commons, appropriating something requires the consent of all Commoners.
The oft-cited "Tragedy of the Commons", which Drahos criticised as "ahistorical", according to him really only refers to the negative Commons. Positive Commons have historically worked very well. In certain circumstances, they can administer resources much more efficiently than markets or government regulation.
During the morning panels, there were various presentations about the different aspects of the system of intellectual monopoly rights which are causing problems, above all the great power of the rightsholders lobby. Susan Sell of the George Washington University pointedly remarked: Intellectual property has been turned from servant (of public policy goals) into master".
There were many more interesting presentations, too many to summarise here. Philippe Aigrain laudably enough has his online here (.pdf, also as .lyx source). I’ll do my best to keep up throughout the afternoon.