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A TRAGEDY OF THE PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE ‘COMMONS’? Global Science, Intellectual Property and the Digital Technology Boomerang

  • Paul A. David

    (All Souls College, Oxford & Stanford University)

Radical legal innovations in intellectual property protection have been introduced by the little noticed European Database Directive of March 1996. This initiative, part of the larger institutional transformations initiated in response to the economic ramifications of rapid progress in digital information technologies, poses numerous contentious issues in law and economics. These are likely to create ambiguities for business and non-profit activities in this area for years to come, and the terms on which those issues are resolved will materially affect the costs and organizational feasibility of scientific projects that are of global reach and significance. This is the case especially in fields such as geology, oceanography and climatology, which depend heavily upon the collection, management and analysis of large volumes of observational data that cannot be regenerated. More generally the conduct of open, collaborative science – along with many of the benefits that flow from it for the developed and the developing economies alike – may be seriously jeopardized by the consequences of the new database protections. This raises the spectre of a new and different “tragedy of the commons,” one created by continuing the unbalanced pressure to extract greater economic rents by means of controlling access to information. “Over-fencing,” which is to say, the erection of artificial cost barriers to the production of reliable public knowledge by means of reliable public knowledge, threatens the future of “the public knowledge commons” that historically has proved critically important for rapid advance in science and technology. The paper sets out the economic case for the effectiveness of open, collaborative research, and the forces behind the recent, countervailing rush to strengthen and expand the scope of intellectual property rights protection. Focusing upon innovations in copyright law and the sui generis protection of hitherto unprotected content, it documents the genesis and analyzes the economic implications of the EC’s Database Directive, and related legislative proposals (H.R. 3125, H.R. 354 and H.R. 1858) in the US. The discussion concludes by advancing a number of modest remedial proposals that are intended to promoted greater efforts to arrive at satisfactory policy solutions for this aspect of “the digital dilemma.”

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File URL: http://econwpa.repec.org/eps/dev/papers/0502/0502010.pdf
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Paper provided by EconWPA in its series Development and Comp Systems with number 0502010.

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Length: 41 pages
Date of creation: 10 Feb 2005
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpdc:0502010
Note: Type of Document - pdf; pages: 41
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://econwpa.repec.org

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  1. Bakos, Yannis & Brynjolfsson, Erik & Lichtman, Douglas, 1999. "Shared Information Goods," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(1), pages 117-55, April.
  2. Liebowitz, S J, 1985. "Copying and Indirect Appropriability: Photocopying of Journals," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 93(5), pages 945-57, October.
  3. Dasgupta, Partha & David, Paul, 1985. "Information Disclosure and the Economics of Science and Technology," CEPR Discussion Papers 73, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. David, Paul A, 1998. "Common Agency Contracting and the Emergence of "Open Science" Institutions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(2), pages 15-21, May.
  5. Besen, Stanley M & Kirby, Sheila Nataraj, 1989. "Private Copying, Appropriability, and Optimal Copying Royalties," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 32(2), pages 255-80, October.
  6. Besen, Stanley M., 1986. "Private copying, reproduction costs, and the supply of intellectual property," Information Economics and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 2(1), pages 5-22.
  7. Reichman, Jerome H, 1998. "Securing Compliance with the Trips Agreement after US v India," Journal of International Economic Law, Oxford University Press, vol. 1(4), pages 585-601, December.
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