Asia Commons: The Asian Conference on Digital Commons

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As Asia prepares to surge ahead towards information driven economy, leading to large-scale improvements in GDPs of many countries, there are new opportunities created for expanding the sector. Digital Commons explores   three key areas, viz., access to knowledge and culture in Asia, exploring models for collaborative knowledge and culture in Asia and  conceptualising a healthy digital  commons. There has been much discussion on the role and impact of copyright and patent issues for the past few years both at the micro and  macro level of economic activity. Copyright and patent issues are forms  of intellectual property. Copyrights  grant exclusive rights on expressive forums of ideas and information for a  limited time while patents grant exclusive rights on processes for a limited time. Patents, particularly software and business process patents are currently not valid in most Asia-Pacific countries, but are very relevant considering what may or may  ot affect a healthy Asian digital   commons.  The need of generating more discussion to gain increased  understanding of the effects of software patents led to a consultation  called, Asia Commons, the Asian  Conference on the digital commons which was held in Bangkok, Thailand  from 6-8 June, 2006. Asia Commons was organised by Bellanet Asia (a Partnership of SAP  International and Bellanet), Bellanet Conference Report  International, Centre for Science, Development and Media Studies, and UNDP APDIP’s International Open  Source Network (IOSN) along with  some local partners like Asian Institute of Technology and Thai Rural Net and funding partners like International Development Research  Centre’s Pan Asia Networking and  UNDP APDIP’s IOSN. The platform that brought together  some 130 researchers, advocates, practitioners and custodians of public information from Asia Pacific and all around the globe, contributed tremendously in terms of increasing  nderstanding of the effects of copyrights and patents, specifically software patents on access to knowledge and culture in Asia, identifying information gaps,  conceptualising and enhancing partnership models for wider dissemination of knowledge and  decision making. The face-to-face meeting was preceded by a highly participatory  planning of the  issues and a three  eek online consultation was held to   build a collective understanding of the contemporary issues and to  familiarize oneself with the kind of participation. Three papers were  commissioned out of an open call for
papers, and they brought together an in-depth analysis of the state of  affairs of the issues. These papers were shared and a peer review  process was set in motion to improve  the understanding of the issues. Authors Junseok Hwang and Choong Hee Lee wrote about managing the  Internet digital commons, resolving the dilemma of intellectual property in  cyberspace. Vijayalakshmi Balakrishnan brought an Asian  Historical perspective of mediating access, and lessons that can be learnt from it. Hsin-I Huang and Tzu-Chiang Liou focused his research on the  benefits of collective innovation and looked at the question, “Why Open Source Software?” While Peter Drahos from Australian National University and Jamie Love from Consumer Project on  Technology presented keynotes at the start of the Asia Commons, the  sessions proceeded discussing themes like history of commons, evolution of copyright, emergence of  the digital economy, copyright and  information gray economy, open business models for content production, and collaborative models  speed sharing where the participants  had the opportunity to exchange their experiences in developing, adopting or adapting new or existing models for collaborative knowledge and content creation.  Lawrence Liang of Alternate Law Forum spoke about the cultural flows represented by the piracy of films and  music in Asia and the need to move away from knee-jerk media responses  to piracy, and Ronaldo Lemos of FGV  School of Law spoke of the pioneering efforts by those who are  experimenting with new ways of distributing knowledge and creativity in Brazil. Some incredible commonsbuild  rs also shared their views in the conference like Michel Bauwens, who has developed one of the most comprehensive directories of  resources on ‘peer to peer sharing’ at and Patcha from Jinbonet who, together with an  organization called IP Left in Korea,  developed a cartoon campaign  against the IP chapter in Korea-US Free Trade Agreement negotiations.  The different conference sessions were hosted by Sunil Abraham of  IOSN, Shahid Akhtar of UNDP’s Asia-  Pacific Development Information Programme, Laurent Elder of IDRC Pan Asia Networking, and Ronaldo  Lemos of Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV) School of Law.  In an unique attempt participants were invited at the end of all presentations  to co-create the agenda for the remainder of the Asia Commons conference. A two-day long  discussion on the theme ‘Towards a healthy Asia Commons: What are the  ideas and issues’ brought the opportunity for the participants to convene around topics of shared  interest. They were invited to initiate  ideas that they would like to take one step further through discussions with  potential collaborators. Asia Commons created many opportunities where deep discussions  and exchanges happened between the organisers and the participants who  have experience and ideas that are relevant to the conference. A number  of thought leaders in the field of  Access of Knowledge culture looked  to innovative approaches to share the knowledge. The conference outputs  are disseminated through several channels like pod casting, blogging  and through bringing out a special magazine issue of i4d, the first  monthly ICTD magazine in Asia, in July 2006. The energy and enthusiasm created during the conference lives on  with collaborative post conference activities taken up by the participants   n the wiki (including creating an  entry on Asia Commons), in  discussion lists and over 20 new collaborative project ideas.

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