Saturday, January 26, 2013

Current Issues: Week 2 - Access to Knowledge

This is not legal advice. Leave audio feedback at (512) 686-6329.

Luckily, this week our materials are publicly accessible via Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisors (PIIPA).  Specifically, we read Chapter 6: Copyright and capability for education: An approach ‘from below’ by Margaret Chon.

Many of these topics are ones we'll address later in the semester, in class, if not on the blog, so I give you the chapter list so you can let me know if I should target any of the topics for an article:
  1. Intellectual property through the lens of human development, by Tzen Wong (doc) (pdf)
  2. Intellectual property and medicine: Towards global health equity, by Claudia Chamas, Ben Prickril and Joshua D. Sarnoff (doc) (pdf)
  3. Food security and intellectual property rights: Finding the linkages, by Hans Morten Haugen, Manuel Ruiz Muller and Savita Mullapudi Narasimhan (doc) (pdf)
  4. Trends and scenarios in the legal protection of traditional knowledge, by Charles McManis and Yolanda Terán (doc) (pdf)
  5. Traditional cultural expressions: Preservation and innovation, by Tzen Wong and Claudia Fernandini (doc) (pdf)
  6. Copyright and capability for education: An approach ‘from below’, by Margaret Chon (doc) (pdf)
  7. Knowledge and education: Pro-access implications of new technologies, by Dalindyebo Shabalala (doc) (pdf)
  8. Cultural diversity and the arts: Contemporary challenges for copyright law, by Tzen Wong, Molly Torsen and Claudia Fernandini (doc) (pdf)
  9. Scenario planning on the future of intellectual property: Literature review and implications for human development, by Michael A. Gollin, Gwen Hinzeand Tzen Wong (doc) (pdf)

Long-time readers will immediately see a connection between what they are doing at PIIPA and Music Manumit. However, I remain skeptical of IP law changes changing things for rural locations. I'm not opposed to liberalization of the laws, but I am skeptical as to how much it will matter.

For example, Laos will become a member of the WTO on February 2nd. Laos acceded to the Berne Convention on March 14, 2012. In theory then, before IP started encroaching on the Lao people, education should have been fantastic. However, according to 2007 data, Laos ranked 139 in education. 

I don't purport to be a Laotian scholar and maybe this is a global anomaly, but education in the US, with a uniform copyright law (if not contract law), is vastly different from state to state. There are a million different ways to measure education, and I don't want to get into the details here. I just want to point out that different situations probably call for different solutions. Perhaps copyright reform is part of a solution everywhere, but pinning our hope on copyright reform, when people don't have access to the Internet, seems flawed. Let's get them access to all of the information on the web. Then we can worry about things like whether Google Translate is a copyright violation.

Another thing I'd like to point out is that maybe the rankings are skewed toward Western ideals. Looking at the 2011 HDI report, which has replaced the Education Index, Japan, if you can call them non-Western, is the first non-Western country on the list at #12. The first more truly non-Western country is U.A.E. at 30, but having been to U.A.E., I can say it doesn't seem like the type of anti-woman place that is the general depiction of the Middle East (this statement of course implies the West is not anti-women, which is an arguable point - perhaps a matter of degree, not kind).

The point here is not to single out methodological problems with the UN's studies. There's already plenty of criticism out there. My point is simply to take the education rankings and the HDI rankings with a grain of salt when thinking about how to improve education. 


As I mentioned last week, we get an opportunity to ask the speakers questions and I asked Professor Chon about the rural/urban divide. She essentially agreed with me. She went on to say, and I'm paraphrasing, "Rural individuals in the US might have more in common with rural individuals in other countries than the urban people of the US." (Actually, I don't remember if she said "might", but I'll hedge on her behalf.)

How we get people in urban areas to care about those in rural areas is a project beyond my pay grade, which, incidentally, is zero. (you can help fix this by the links on the botton of the post!) In fact, that's an issue beyond IP law and an issue with which much of the class was deeply troubled. I think partially we in the class are troubled by our ignorance. Literally no one in the class has a background in international law.

Some of the other questions were as follows:
How do you advocate for an increased focus on IP in Human Development OVER other needs?
Who pays for it all?
What incentives can copyright law provide for broader access to educational materials?
Is there a One-size-fits all solution to International IP?

Higher Education

Now, I do find the proposal as applied to higher education to be intriguing. Those in higher education are by definition the elite at some level. About 30% of USicans have a associates degree or higher. We could probe the numbers a bit more, but for our purposes here, we can think of the educated as the elite at some level. Certainly one assumes that in 2013 those in higher education are going to have access to the Internet. What an Internet without copyright restrictions could mean to those in cities is near-on limitless. Individuals would still need to worry about patent and trademark protections, but access to the libraries of Harvard, NYU, Oxford, etc. is certain to help those in Johannesburg think of solutions to solve their countries' problems. Access to information about building efficient water distribution, efficient network infrastructure and efficient transportation. There has to still be the political will to impliment the infrastructure, but at least then academics and activists will be armed with the data needed to convince the law makers. People in the poor countries sides are worried about surviving, not lobbying. I'm all for the poor banding together and using their numbers as power, but it's just not the political reality in most of the world.

Music Education

Let's step back for just a second. You might be thinking, "Why are we talking about education and education levels on a music law policy blog?" To a certain extent, that's the same question the students in class are asking. We are not educators (though I did write my master's thesis on higher education). Most of the people in the class are future patent attorneys (either agents or litigators).

But, what does this mean for music education? We're going to come back to music education again in Week 5 (assuming they don't change the schedule on us again), but aside from happiness, I'm not sure what music really gives people as far as a tool. However, there are a lot of unhappy people in the world, and many of those people are in Africa. This is true on a number of studies. So, I say, have at it. And, if you're an artist and want to make the world a happier place, consider releasing your work under a Creative Commons license. Not only will it make me happy, it will allow those in Africa and other poor countries to enjoy your music free from the most stringent copyright restrictions.

Further Research

Professor Chon primarily focuses on copyright for textbooks, but for those interested in education, it might be worth thinking about how trademarks and patents might interfere with education. Unfortunately, at the moment I don't have time to research these topics. However, as always, if this is a topic that interests you, please let me know and I can do further research.

More Information

If you want to learn more about music education, check out the interview Tom and I did with my father If you want to know more about online music education, check out the interview Tom and I did with a music theory teacher at

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