GOA, India, 07 July 2006
APC members took an active part at the Asia Commons (www.asia-commons.net), a first-of-its-kind event held in June 2006 in the Thai capital of Bangkok. Some expected more concrete action could come out of it. But this meet was a great start to building links and planning ‘common’ action at the Asian level.
The commons? What’s that? A major meet sought to look at how Asia could further the idea of sharing digital resources and ‘intellectual products’ to the benefit of all.
Asia has a strong reason for this: Common village land is still in existence in Asia, not in the West; the problems of access are more serious in most Asian countries; "piracy" (or the illegal copying of software, music and other CDs or DVDs) is stronger than in the West.
Such issues, it may be recalled, had also come up at the South Asia consultation held by the APC recently. As someone had said there, "If everyone does it, it’s not ‘piracy’ anymore. It’s a rebellion."
Thailand’s conference discussed issues pertaining to the Asian Digital Commons, free/libre and open source software, business models and collaborative models, intellectual property rights, patents, copyrights, copylefts, the grey economy and its impact on the Asian "developing world", ideas of the Creative Commons, alternate law practices, access to knowledge (a2k), open access, open alternatives, peer-to-peer (P2P) practices and open standards.
At the Asia Commons Conference, held from June 6 to 8 2006, the event’s organisers said that through an exchange of experience and knowledge, the Asia Commons conference aimed at bringing participants together to increasing understanding of the effects of copyrights and patents (especially software patents) on access to knowledge and culture in Asia.
Other goals were conceptualising locally relevant models for collaboration, creation and dissemination of knowledge and culture; enhancing partnerships; identifying information gaps; and contributing to the production of material.
Some 137 participants, mainly from Asia, were listed to take part in the event. Participants were encouraged to join in the conference documentation through the wiki, blogs, and photo galleries. Keynote speakers were Peter Drahos of the Australian National University and Jamie Love of the Consumer Project of Technology.
There were sessions on "History of the Commons, Evolution of Copyright and the Emergence of the Digital Economy: Exploring the Relationships", "Copyright and the Information Grey Economy: A Regional Comparison", "Patents and Innovation", and "Open Business Models".
Using the "speed sharing" model, there was also a session on collaborative projects. Each speaker, talked to small groups of participants, and had just three minutes in which to explain their work and concepts. This was followed by a session of ‘round tables’ on the issue of collaborative models: factors that lead to successful collaborations, opportunities and challenges. This event used the ‘open
space’ approach to focus on issues of relevance.
Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation, which has a wide variety of links to peer-to-peer networking examples, explained his perspective saying, "The basic idea I had was that there’s a new social movement emerging, which is really about extending the realm of participation to the whole of life. We live in a representative democracy, which says you can vote every four years, and choose which people will exercise power on your behalf… now we’re building tools and resources which say everybody needs to be involved, and everybody should have a voice (in other areas too, apart from just voting)."
Paola de Maio, another participant, narrated her experiences in deploying technology to cope with the fury of nature, as reflected in the December 26 2004 Asian tsunami.
"Our emergency collaboration model emerged after we became familiar with the tsunami. I was in Thailand then. My internet was working but all the phone were down. So I got online via my tiny mobile, and was looking for information. We knew something big had happened, but there was simply no news emerging. One or two hours after the wave hit, there were headlines reporting an ‘earthquake’," she commented.
Sacha of Indymedia in the United States shared his group’s experience with building alternatives from the grassroots. Currently, the Indymedia global network of participatory journalism has local units in 160 cities, of 80 countries, and every continent. He said: "Indymedia was created in 1999 to cover the WTO (World Trade Organisation) Ministerial meeting and protests against it in Seattle. There were some 5000 activists taking part. Many strands from the global justice movement joined in."
Lawrence Liang, a lawyer trained at the prestigious National Law School of India, had a session along with others on "countering IP propaganda". Ronaldo Lemos from Rio de Janeiro’s Fundacao Getulio Vargas school of law pointed to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who has said that in the foreseeable future, there would be twelve fields that would become free. The would include the encyclopaedia, the dictionary, academic curriculum, music, art in general, file formats, maps, product identifiers, search engines, production made by communities, TV listings, academic publishing. Ronaldo Lemos felt that things lacking in this list included news and software.
Said Delhi-based independent writer and researcher Vijayalakshmi "Viju" Balakrishnan: "In Asia, the history of (colonial) trade has largely been sea-based trade. And the language and philosophy now governing the way cyberspace is being controlled has strong parallels to what we saw in the seventeenth century. Free trade has functioned through pirate-based models. There were cartels or guild-power. For us in India it was the East India Company. For our friends in South East Asia, it was the VOC or the Dutch East India Company. Today, it’s the Wintel (Windows-Intel) combo. In comparison to the state-control model of the past, we now have the story of how Google enters China."
* Asia Commons site
* Asia Commons wiki
* Suchit Nanda’s photos of Asia Commons
* Asia Commons 2006 conference papers
* Asia Commons 2006 conference notes
* Asia Commons 2006 Conference Programme