[-empyre-] Intellectual property: hacking communities and traditional knowledge

Zac Zimmer zacz at vt.edu
Sat Apr 26 22:16:15 EST 2014

Hi to all, and thanks for the invitation to participate. I'd like to return
to some of the issues posed earlier this month, and approach them through
the lens of intellectual property.

I assume everyone at empyre are familiar with the debates surrounding
digital enclosures, digital commons, intellectual property, free software,
free culture, etc. Speaking in broad terms, most members of the HASTAC and
empyre communities likely reject the neoliberal IP maximalist position of
the absolute and universal expansion of corporate-friendly North American
norms of intellectual property. On the contrary, our communities celebrate
the expansion of the public domain and open source information; some would
even go so far as to name the free circulation of information as the source
of human creative innovation.

There is another organized group that resists the global IP maximalist
position and has a very strong presence in the Andean region: indigenous
communities. These communities are especially interested in protecting
their traditional knowledges (TK) from capitalist appropriation. This leads
us to a paradox: on the one hand, the central strategy for protecting TK
resides in a process of withdrawing that knowledge from the global market
and of creating more barriers to impede capitalist appropriation and
exploitation of TK by multinational industry. On the other hand, the
central strategy for protecting and advancing a culture of hacking and
technological experimentation resides in a position of absolute openness,
and a resistance to any barrier—be it technological, legal, or social—that
would impede digital innovation.

One can understand these two different approaches to globalizing IP
norms—the openness of the hacker and the withdraw of the indigenous
knower—but the distance between the two positions depoliticizes and
deactivates a possible nucleus of collaboration. This is especially true
given that within the logic of the World Intellectual Property Organization
and bilateral Free Trade Agreements, both worlds—traditional knowledge and
critical making—fall under the umbrella rubric of intellectual property. To
explore this conflict, I pose the following question: how to connect the
struggle to recognize and protect traditional knowledges with the struggle
to protect a free and open network conducive to hacker culture?

Zac Zimmer
Assistant Professor of Spanish
313 Major Williams Hall
Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg VA 24061
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