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Ownership and Responsibility: Public Property in Creative Commons and Rice Genomics

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Smith, Elta
Conference: Science and Democracy Network Meeting
Location: Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Conf. Date: June
Date: 2005
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/8267
Sector: Agriculture
Information & Knowledge
New Commons
Subject(s): biotechnology
information commons
genetic resources
intellectual property rights
Abstract: "Agricultural biotechnology-genomics, more specifically-is one of the busiest sites of research and debate at the nexus of science, technology, and policy. The field comprises emergent practices and technologies that produce and use information about plant genomes to improve agricultural production as well as the nutritional value of foods. In particular, intellectual property rights in genes and genome-related information are highly contested in this emerging arena. Intellectual property rights are often represented as binary choices between private and restricted, or public and free. I illustrate how property rights, in practice, can fall along a spectrum of possibilities, from wholly free to completely restricted. The definition of points on this spectrum, moreover, occurs not only (or even) in formal legal or regulatory institutions, but is rather simultaneously defined and defended through scientific practice. This spectrum constitutes a hybrid set of properties that I term 'public property. Debates centered on intellectual property rights are also a major focus in the area of copyright, especially among groups attempting to carve out niches for more 'public' availability of information such as music, movies, images and text. Creative Commons is a formalized attempt to develop alternatives to intellectual property laws, working both within and outside the legal system to this end. This study develops the concept of 'public property' through a comparative analysis of intellectual property debates and negotiations in rice genomics and similar practices in Creative Commons. In both cases, 'public property' raises questions about what notions of 'public' and 'private' mean as they get configured through intellectual property debates in technoscience-especially in genomics, where such arrangements have received little attention outside the research communities in which they have been developed and where the implications of property configurations will likely impact the entire political economy of rice, from upstream scientific practices to downstream products."

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