ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Equipment for Battles on Intellectual Property Rights

Review of Knowledge as Property: Issues in the Moral Grounding of Intellectual Property Rights by Rajshree Chandra (Oxford University Press), 2010; paperback Rs 450.

While writing this review I came across a constant stream of headlines and updates concerning intellectual property. One headline reminded me that the Supreme Court decision on Glivec, a case that is substantively treated in this book, was due in April (the ruling is since out). Another bemoans the fate of Belgian chocolatiers who now want a geographical indication for their (distinct?) pralines. Elsewhere I read about the US’ extradition efforts to “get” Megaupload’s Kim Dotcom from New Zealand for alleged copyright infringement that occurs via users of his cloud-storage service. Then a story informs me of the San in southern Africa having previously secured benefit-sharing arrangements with the South African government’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research for uses of Hoodia, now plan to include the Nama in sharing these benefits. Jottings from a workshop on postcolonial legality inform me of how falafel is being (has been?) deliberately appropriated in Israel as a symbol of unity for the nationalist movement – a signifier of Israeli pride while evacuating it of its Arabic origins. As I puzzle over a news that The Pirate Bay might have relocated (some?) of its servers to North Korea – to elude the lengthening arm of Hollywood, I also hear that the Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge have been made party to the case that sees Oxford University Press take a photocopier, Rameshwari Print Services, and Delhi University to court for preparing course packs.

Clearly, stories about intellectual property are manifold and aspects of their workings – or rather, non-working – interpenetrate numerous dimensions of our everyday lives. A single overarching rhetoric would fail fantastically in capturing this multitude of issues – even its little complexity would defeat such a narrative. Yet, the questions that we can ask of intellectual property can be incredibly simple and sharp. In seeking to weave through the rhetoric that envelopes intellectual property, this monograph adopts an interesting duality. Part I concerns itself with framing intellectual property – and thus, seeks to equip the reader with a critical understanding of the principles that have often been deployed to rationalise and enhance intellectual property. Usefully, the critique extends to a discussion of the politics of knowledge which notes how systems of knowledge are themselves epistemological islands, so to say, that seek to define what constitutes knowledge and dismiss all else. A consequence of privileging particular knowledge systems – in part mediated by institutions of intellectual property – leads Rajshree Chandra, in this book, to declaim the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) as a phenomenon of cognitive injustice. In Part II, the book takes the reader through a series of case studies that highlight one or another set of concerns. Broadly within a human rights framework, though, with other elements too, the cases include health (Glivec), farmers’ rights (Monsanto) and traditional knowledge (Neem).

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