The Access to Knowledge Mobilization and the New Politics of Intellectual Property
Intellectual Property law was once an arcane subject. Today it is at the center of some of the most highly charged political contests of our time. In recent years, college students, subsistence farmers, AIDS activists, genomic scientists, and free-sofware programmers have mobilized to challenge the contours of intellectual property (IP) law. Very recently, some from these groups have behun to develop a shared critique under the umbrella of “access to knwoledge” (A2K). Existing accounts of the political economy of the field of IP have suggested that such a mobilization was unlikely. This article takes the emergence of the A2K mobilization as an opportunity to develop a richer and less deterministic account of the contemporary politics of IP. It draws upon “frame mobilization” literature, which illuminates the role that acts of interpretation play in instigating, promoting, and legitimating collective action. The frame-analystic perspective teaches that before a group can act it must develop an account of its interests and theorizee how to advance these interests. These acts of interpretation are both socially mediated and contingent. Ideas can be a resource for those engaged in mobilization, nut on that is not fully in their control. Frames thus can lay the scaffolding for a countermovement even as they pave the way for a movement’s success. Law is a key location for framing conflicts because it provides groups with symbolic resources for framing, and because groups struggle within the field of law to gain control over law’s normative and instrumental benefits. Law thus exerts a gravitational pull on framing processes. Engagement with law can influence a group’s architecture, discourse, and strategies, and can also create areas of overlapping agreement and- as importantly- a language of common disagreement between opposing groups. The article closes by suggesting some implications of this point, which should be of interest to those who design legal institutions and who engage in social mobilization. Most ingriguing, perhaps, is the role it suggests that law amy play in the creation of global publics and polities.