[Reader-list] [Announcements] "The Contested Commons/ Trespassing Publics" - Public Lecture Series

Jeebesh Bagchi jeebesh at sarai.net
Mon Dec 13 18:02:52 IST 2004

"The Contested Commons/ Trespassing Publics" - *Public Lecture Series*

The Public Service Broadcasting Trust, the Sarai Programme of the CSDS, 
Delhi and Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore present a series of three 
public lectures by world renowned scholars, which examine the fate of 
the commons after new conflicts over the public domain, and intellectual 


6th January, 2005 Thursday, 7 pm, Auditorium, India Habitat Center, Lodi 
Road, Delhi
"Between Anarchy and Oligarchy: The Prospects for Sovereignty and 
Democracy in a Connected World "*

Prof. Siva Vaidyanathan,
New York University

Information communication technologies have collapsed distances and 
lowered the price of connections and transactions around the world. We 
have only just begun making sense of the changes wrought by the new 
methods and habits fostered by these technologies. But we have no 
shortage of grand, totalizing visions that aim to capture the changes we 
are experiencing. In the 1990s we went through a phase dominated by 
naive visions of globalized monoculture and consensus, with the "end of 
history" considered to be the apex of "cultural evolution."  Since 2001 
the world has been viewed by some (Bush and Bin Laden, chiefly) as torn 
among "Civilizations." Now we hear explicit calls for a new Western 
imperialism, based on assumptions of universal benevolence. In 
opposition to such panicked or triumphal calls for a New World Order, 
Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt have issued a description of a new 
global anarchistic state of mind ("Empire" and "Multitude") based on the 
emerging forms of opposition to the mainstream forms of globalized 
corporate centralization. This paper finds fault with both Bush and 
Negri. It argues that efforts to create a world polarized on models of 
oligarchy and anarchy do not enrich most lives in meaningful ways. 
Instead, this paper argues for a careful consideration of the democratic 
potential of the new information ecosystems, and points out specific 
points of hope and models of optimism that can guide our global future 
toward a more just state, opening possibilities without sacrificing the 
granularity of the local, the specific, and the experimental.

Siva Vaidyanathan is a well-known cultural historian, media scholar and 
public intellectual. . He is the author of the classic Copyrights and 
Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens 
Creativity (New York University Press, 2001)


7th January, 2005 Friday, 7 pm, Auditorium, India Habitat Center, Lodi 
Road, Delhi
"U.S Path to Wealth and Power: Intellectual Piracy and the making of 
Prof. Doron Ben-Atar
Fordham University

During the first decades of America's existence as a nation, private 
citizens, voluntary associations, and government officials encouraged 
the smuggling of European inventions and artisans to the New World. 
These actions openly violated the intellectual property regimes of 
European nations.  At the same time, the young republic was developing 
policies that set new standards for protecting industrial innovations.  
The American patent law of 1790 restricted patents exclusively to 
original inventors and established the principle that prior use anywhere 
in the world was grounds for invalidating a patent.

But the story behind the story is a little more complicated - and 
leaders of the developing world would be wise to look more closely at 
how the American system operated in its first 50 years.  In theory the 
United States pioneered a new standard of intellectual property that set 
the highest possible requirements for patent protection-worldwide 
originality and novelty.  In practice, the country encouraged widespread 
intellectual piracy and industrial espionage.  Piracy took place with 
the full knowledge and sometimes even aggressive encouragement of 
government officials.  Congress never protected the intellectual 
property of European authors and inventors, and Americans did not pay 
for the reprinting of literary works and unlicensed use of patented 

What fueled 19th century American boom was a dual system of principled 
commitment to an intellectual property regime combined with absence of 
commitment to enforce these laws.  This ambiguous order generated 
innovation by promising patent monopolies.  At the same time, by 
declining to crack down on technology pirates, it allowed for rapid 
dissemination of innovation that made American products better and cheaper.

Doron Ben-Atar is professor of history at Fordham University and 
co-director of Crossroads of Revolution to Cradle of Reform: Litchfield 
Connecticut 1751-1833.  He has won numerous grants and awards, including 
most recently from the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars 
and Writers at the New York public library.  He is the author of 
numerous articles and a guest speaker on radio and television stations 
in the New York area.  Ben-Atar's books include The Origins of 
Jeffersonian Commercial Policy and Diplomacy (Macmillan 1993), 
Federalists Reconsidered (University Press of Virginia, 1998) and Trade 
Secrets: Intellectual Piracy and the Origins of American Industrial 
Power (Yale University Press, 2004). 

8th January, 2005 Saturday, 7 pm, Auditorium, India Habitat Center, Lodi 
Road, Delhi

*"Magna Carta and the Commons"*

Peter Linebaugh
University of Toledo

Magna Carta has been ignored as a medieval document of little relevance 
to the modern world at best, or at worst it has been derided as a false 
facade of liberal intention by Anglo imperialism.  Partly as a result of 
this neglect, fundamental protections against tyranny and aggression 
have been eroded, such as habeas corpus, trial by jury, prohibition of 
torture, and due process of law.  These cannot be restored without the 
root and branch recovery of the entire Charter of Liberty which includes 
the Charter of the Forest.  This lost but extraordinary document holds a 
constitutional key to the future of humanity insofar as it provides 
protections for the whole earth's commons, particularly its hydrocarbon 
energy resources, whether these take the form of wood, coal, or 
petroleum.  The key is turned by the women of the planet in Chiapas, 
Nigeria, India (to name a few places) who have taken the lead in the 
process of re-commoning what has been privatized and profiteered.  
Hence, the significance of "widow's estovers" in the Magna Carta as 
revised after 9/11!

Peter Linebaugh is Professor of History at the University of Toledo in 
Ohio.  He is the author of The London Hanged, co-author of The Many 
Headed Hydra, an editor of Albion's Fatal Tree, and forthcoming studies 
of the Irish insurrectionist, Edward Despard, as well as Magna Carta.

He was raised and educated between two empires, British and American.  
Schooled in London in the 1940s, tested in Cattaraugus (New York) and 
Muskogee (Oklahoma) during the 1950s, he finished secondary school at 
the Karachi Grammar School, before matriculating at Swarthmore College, 
the liberal, Quaker, college in Pennsylvania.  Active there in the civil 
rights struggle, he then removed to Columbia Univesity in New York until 
anti-war upheavals of May 1968 when, shaking the dust from his feet, he 
joined E.P. Thompson at the Centre for the Study of Social History at 
the University of Warwick.  An educator who respects the organizer and 
the agitator, he has published in the Nation, Viet-Report, New Left 
Review, Times Literary Supplement, Midnight Notes, and his occasional 
essays may be read on www.CounterPunch. org.


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