claims the right to
freedom of knowledge.
Building a society where the dignity of the individual is respected requires that knowledge can be shared in solidarity,
and demands that
Human Rights1 be respected;
The exercise of these rights is hindered -- in the context of knowledge societies with their new technological basis and means of communication -- by the current legal systems of patents and copyright.5
The growing dominance of these legal systems over Human Rights must be limited in the public interest6, to prevent them slowing human progress.7
We must build a sustainable knowledge society based on solidarity.
It is therefore necessary to change the legal system to bring it into correspondence with reality, the needs of society, and the new usages and customs of the internet, restoring the right to freedom of knowledge established by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights8
This will provide the ethical principles which allow the individual to spread his/her knowledge, to help him/herself, to help his/her community and the whole world, with the aim of making society ever more free, more equal, more sustainable, and with greater solidarity.
- therefore invites all to work
- towards the goal that all institutions, private and public bodies, and especially the governments of the world show themselves in favour of, participate in the creation of, and establish
a legal framework
- which corresponds with reality, the needs of society, and the new usages and customs of the internet
- and which allows all to enjoy freedom of knowledge as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
1 Established in:
Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits
Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages ..
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
5 Relations between rights
The three above-mentioned human rights: culture, education and communication, (as with the other rights) have a value which preempts and limits the laws which derive from the right of the author to benefit from his creation, recognised in clause 1 subclause c of article 15 of the ICESCR and clause 2 of article 27 of the UDHR:
Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
The application of this right is limited by the public interest and by its social function as reaffirmed in the documents cited in the following note.
The rights related to knowledge do not limit other human rights, in particular the right to privacy established in article 12 of the UDHR. Freedom of knowledge does not compel anyone to share information or to make it publicly available; it gives the person with this knowledge the right to share it, not the obligation to share it.
Freedom of knowledge allows people to exercise a kind of solidarity which is forbidden today. By default, unless the author says otherwise, public law today blocks the sharing of the expression of the ideas of a third party. With freedom, unless the source explicitly refuses to allow it, his expression of a known idea can be shared.
The rights related to knowledge are deeply interrelated and it is not possible to exercise them in isolation. It is not possible to communicate without knowledge, or to know without communication or education. Education for today's highly sophisticated society implies access to all available knowledge, from the first levels of schooling on, with content and abstractions appropriate to each level. This is not possible if it cannot be shared.
6 Which is reaffirmed in:
- clauses 13 and 18 of the Proclamation of Teheran (International Conference on Human Rights at Teheran on 13 May 1968);
- clause 1 of the 2000/7 Resolution and clauses 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the 2001/21 Resolution of the Sub-Commission on Human Rights
- the Declaration on the Use of Scientific and Technological Progress in the Interests of Peace and for the Benefit of Mankind (resolution 3384, 10 Nov. 1975)
- article 6 of the Declaration on the Right to Development, adopted by General Assembly resolution 41/128 of 4 December 1986
- la Declaration of the Principles of International Cultural Co-operation Proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization at its fourteenth session on 4 November 1966
7 The effects of technological change
The transition from industrial society to knowledge society implies profound changes. The rules of exclusive appropriation applicable to material goods do not extend to information and knowledge, because
- Material goods are 'scarce' (the apple is either yours or mine), and the economy is built on them
- Digitalised knowledge can be reproduced with zero marginal cost (if I have an idea and I tell it to you, we both have the idea), since it has become economically independent of the material substratum which carries it and now circulates freely on the internet
The fact that information and knowledge are no longer scarce goods represents a step forward for humanity; to forcibly incorporate information into the economy through laws appropriate to physical property externalities would slow down this beneficial advance.
Knowledge is not quantifiable, and everyone who receives an idea has it in a form which is independant of the form it was given in. Knowledge is free and spreads or can be transmitted. Everyone can spread it as they wish, and in the process, it changes. In this sense it is not necessary to agree on rights or customs regarding a particular item of knowledge, since there is no unique element of knowledge to which these rights can be applied.
The internet, as a free network used by people in preference to various other closed networks that have existed, now offers new possibilities, not only to exercise the right to knowledge but also to teach and to learn, to give and receive information, to communicate with others, with knowledge genuinely held in common.
The formation of virtual communities, like that of the movement for free software - the cultural tool of the epoch, which both created and was created by the internet, and which proves that it is possible to create in freedom - is only the beginning of the change which will be created by the unbounded connection of people.
Forbidding people to share their knowledge in solidarity, because a third party holds property rights in it, brings with it the danger of increasing poverty with the deep inequality in access to the new technologies which have already created the digital divide and a new type of illiteracy.
The full development of the society of free knowledge would arise from the full exercise of the rights listed above made possible by the unrestricted use of all the potential of the internet.
8 The law must be changed
The legislation on copyright, on patents, and all the legal monopolies on intellectual creations are supposed to encourage the spread of knowledge. Technical change has resulted in systems which used to encourage this spread now halting it. The current legal framework, laid down in the industrial era with the aim of encouraging the spread of information and knowledge is today an injustifiable anachronism.
Blocking the flow of information, which occurs whenever someone decides to freely share its expression, harms both individuals and society, and benefits only private minority interests (which do not necessarily coincide with those of the authors).