World Summit on the Information Society: Infopaper Released
Even though not many would expect the summit in Geneva to lay the foundations for a new and different Information Society the event has a symbolic meaning.
Although few would expect the World Summit to lay the foundations for a “people-centred, inclusive and development oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential” – the official intention of the Summit - the event is charged with symbolic meaning and could modify modes of legitimacy in the realm of information policies. And it shows that information can and should be the subject of political deliberation.
But information is not just supplementary to existing economies. Intellectual Property (IP) has become a key economic factor, decisive for the distribution not only of information, but of power and wealth. Based on these premises, World-Information.Org has produced an infopaper on Intellectual Property issues. The paper is being distributed at the WSIS and other related events is also downloadable from the World-Information.Org web site, where hard copies can also be requested.
The paper features 18 distinguished authors who discuss different aspects of the IP with regard to their ambivalent role in the building of a just information order. How can the information commons be preserved in view of advancing IP regimes that benefit large corporations and lock the former third world into a state of underdevelopment? How can open access systems contribute to an open science environment and to free cultural production? Why are software patents problematic?
But IP issues are largely absent from the WSIS agenda. According to Alan Toner, a member of the Autonomedia collective and one of the authors in the infopaper, this is “not by oversight, but for strategic reasons”. The term information society sometimes refers to the expansion of digital networks, sometimes to the permeation of labour by information processes, sometimes at the shift from tangible to intangible goods. Beyond these different meanings, the concept seems to be held together by strong sense of necessity: "‘Information Society’ seemed to imply something inexorable, a consequence of the massive mediatisation of the preceding years, outside any one set of strategic interests - something, we were constantly reminded, ‘we would all have to adapt to.’"
If adaptation is a foregone conclusion, then there is no reason why the WSIS should address the most decisive factor in the actual shaping of the IS, intellectual property. In fact, just how neatly reactionary politics, information society rhetoric and the strategic suppression of IP issues at WSIS fit together is exemplified by the WSIS Award™. Protected as a Trademark, the Award is based on an understanding of the Information Society as a market whose "best products" it wants to honour. No one will be surprised that the Austrian Chancellor Schüssel, the driving force behind the Berlusconization of media policies his country, is one of the masterminds of the Award.
But Vienna is also the site of counter initiatives against such highly problematic schemes. Themes discussed in the infopaper will be debated live on two evenings (17 / 19 December), seeking a critical appraisal of the WSIS Geneva sessions. Guests will include Alan Toner and Felix Stalder, as well as representatives of Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Quintessenz, and other NGOs.
Finally, on 10 December, the day of the opening of WSIS Geneva, a 50 meter long banner with the inscription “Save the Digital E-cology” was set up on Viennas central Karlsplatz in order to draw the attention to the urgency of sustainable and forward-looking information policies on a global level. Please check the URL below for photos.
World Summit of the Information Society
World-Information.Org info paper download
>>> (For hard copies send a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org)
World Summit Award
WSIS Public Netbase events
Photos of banner on Karlsplatz