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Benkler to Berkman, and the Role of a University

Yochai Benkler, the brilliant thinker about how modern collaborative tools are changing the economy and our lives in general, is coming to Harvard Law School and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, with which this center is affiliated (along with UC-Berkeley) and where I’m a research fellow. Benkler’s 2006 book, The Wealth of Networks, is probably the most important volume for understanding these changes.

I’m at Berkman today for the Internet & Society Conference 2007. The title this year is “University: Knowledge Beyond Authority,” and the theme is largely about how “open” — in all kinds of ways — the university (all universities, not just Harvard) should be in a Digital Age.

Palfrey and OgletreeOpenness is a multidirectional question, and includes the way intellectual property law interacts with the university and society as a whole.

Today’s event is public. Yesterday was a smaller gathering of representatives from various constituencies — including academics, nonprofits, the “content” industry and others — to find at least some common ground. Under the rules of the day, I can’t say who said what.

There were indications that some people in the entertainment industry realize how counter-productive their restrictive copyright policies have been in key respects. Scholars are persistently thwarted in their attempts to make what by all accounts should be “fair use” of videos and other materials that “content holder,” as they’re known, lock down so powerfully to thwart infringement.

One suggestion, that universities should participate actively in policing alleged copyright infringement, was not viewed with much favor, it seemed to me, by anyone but the representatives of the entertainment industry.

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