Friday, November 25, 2016

Intellectual Property and Access to Science and Culture: Convergence or Conflict?

The Centre for International Intellectual Property Studies (CEIPI) has launched the publication of Intellectual Property and Access to Science and Culture: Convergence or Conflict?, exploring the relationship between intellectual property (IP) rights and the right to science and culture.

The landscape of copyright in scientific work has changed dramatically in recent years, partly as a result of the emergence of a strong critique of the privatization of scientific knowledge and publications. The issue of access to science has been raised at the UN by UN Special Rapporteur Farida Shaheed, who in 2014 noted that privatizing scientific knowledge could work against the human right "to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits" (UDHR Art. 27). She noted that, from a human rights perspective:
Copyright laws should place no limitations upon the right to science and culture, unless the State can demonstrate that the limitation pursues a legitimate aim, is compatible with the nature of this right and is strictly necessary for the promotion of general welfare in a democratic society. (20)
As Shaheed notes in her introduction to Intellectual Property and Access to Science and Culture, "[a]dopting a human rights perspective on intellectual property issues is both crucial and urgent." The authors of Intellectual Property and Access to Science and Culture discuss the history, origins, and impact of Shaheed's groundbreaking reports, concluding (Christophe Geiger) that a human rights framework requires re-conceiving of copyright as a cultural right that includes a right of access.

Chapter 3 of my book, International Copyright and Access to Knowledge gives further background on copyright and science. Titled "Access to scientific knowledge," it recounts the history of international copyright in scientific works. I note that when the international copyright system was founded, scientific journal articles were placed, by default, in the public domain. This is due in large part to the efforts of Haitian diplomat, doctor, and writer Louis-Joseph Janvier, in fighting for broad and liberal access to scientific works worldwide. My chapter recounts historical debates over the question of whether copyright should apply to scientific works, and traces the transformation of the international copyright system and the narrowing of principles of access to scientific works.

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