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Owning the World of Ideas

Owning the World of Ideas
Intellectual Property and Global Network Capitalism

SAGE Swifts

September 2015 | 136 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd

Formally, ownership of ideas is legally impossible, and can never be globally secured. Yet, in very real and significant ways these limits have been undone. In principle, ideas cannot be owned, yet, undoing the distinction between ideas and tangible manifestations, the distinction which underpins the principle, allows the principle to hold even whilst its meaning is hollowed out.

Post-Cold War global network capitalism is premised upon regulatory structures designed to enforce deregulation in global markets and production, but at the same time to enforce global regulation of property and intellectual property in particular. However, this roll-out has not been without resistance and limitations. Globalization, the affordances of digital networks, and contradiction within capitalism itself - between private property and free markets - promote and undo global IP expansion.

In this book David and Halbert map the rise of global IP protectionism, debunk the key justifications given for IPRs, dismiss the arguments put forward for global extension and harmonization; and suggest that roll-back, suspension, and even simply the bi-passing of IP in practice offer better solutions for promoting innovation and meeting human needs.

Key Concepts and Why they Matter so much Today
Origins, History and Globalization of Intellectual Property
Copyright Controversies Today
Patents and Traditional Knowledge
Trademark, Designs and Identifiers in Question
Conclusions and Paradoxes

In Owning the World of Ideas, David and Halbert offer an incisive, critical and powerful analysis of information capitalism, focusing on its monopolisation of knowledge and culture through increasingly aggressive structures of intellectual ownership. The authors present a timely counter to these trends, arguing instead for an approach to intellectual property that favours human well-being over and above the economic expropriation and monopolisation of knowledge. This is an important book which deserves a wide and appreciative audience.

Majid Yar, Professor of Sociology and Associate Director: Centre for Criminology & Criminal Justice
University of Hull

Owning the World of Ideas is a stimulating situation report on current political and legal struggles over intellectual property (IP), regarded only a few decades ago as the exclusive domain of specialist lawyers and economists. Written for a general readership by two well-known IP scholars, this well-researched book shows that while juridical IP control through copyright, patents, trademarks and other mechanisms is constantly expanding into new areas, IP rights are often ignored by the broad public and are frequently technically unenforceable. The authors describe how these various IP systems work, their defects, who benefits from them, the harm that they often cause, and forms that resistance has taken. By debunking overreaching claims that IP incentivises creativity, facilitates the spread of innovation and supports quality control, this accessible book will help to counterbalance often aggressive pro-IP propaganda from industry organisations.

Dr Colin Darch
University of Cape Town

Intellectual property used to be a field for technicians, isolated in law practice and ignored by most social justice advocates. It is no longer and for good reason. Through their sustained evaluation of the concept critical in intellectual property law that ideas are a public good and unownable as private property, Halbert and David demonstrate how preserving the freedom of ideas in the face of global economic inequality and the inevitability of digital connectivity in the 21st century is critical to democratic engagement, health and human flourishing.

Jessica Sibley
Suffolk University Law School

Intellectual property is arguably the branch of law that speaks most directly to the state of capitalist society as a whole, yet until now there hasn’t really been a book that makes both the field’s traditional issues and cutting edge developments accessible to non-specialists in the social sciences.  David and Halbert have written just such a book. Owning the World of Ideas is organized around the idea that intellectual property is the pivotal site for studying the interplay of regulation and de-regulation in the shaping of capitalism. The result is a stunning achievement of both comprehensiveness and concision that will be difficult to match in the future.

Steve Fuller
Auguste Comte Professor of Social Epistemology, University of Warwick

David and Halbert provide a timely, concise and cosmopolitan guide to the contradictions and paradoxes that vex the systems of intellectual property that govern the so-called knowledge economy in an era of globalized informational capital. With its crisp prose and comprehensive coverage, it will be a welcome user-friendly manual to introduce readers to intellectual property issues across the academy.

Rosemary J. Coombe, Canada Research Chair in Law, Communication and Culture
York University

Exploring the fractures created by the growing paradoxes in global intellectual property, David and Halbert provoke us to critically understand the consequences of legal and policy choices in this significant post-industrial realm. They situate the law within dialogical frameworks of governments and governed, markets and social systems, as well as creators and consumers—yet also provide accessible guides to relevant legal principles along with their multifarious impacts.

Maggie Chon
Seattle University School of Law

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