[Reader-list] Re: Understanding the Patenting of Traditional Knowledge-In response

Jeebesh Bagchi jeebesh at sarai.net
Sat Jan 31 05:21:31 IST 2004

Thanks Danny for opening up the question of `freedom` in open source. I would 
agree with you that the open source idea of `freedom` would be difficult to 
apply in areas of `embodied knowledge practices`. (1)

 My response was not so much about how traditional knowledge will be or can be 
or is `protected` by it's practitioners but how IP regimes intervenes within 
these knowledge practices and the story then on. 

After IP intervention, a new `disembodied-mobile` knowledge form would emerge 
and would be protected through `no end user rights to reproduce or modify`. 
It is within this context that user/producer models can help challenge this 
dominant form. 

I would never propogate (would shudder) the translation of `open source` ideas 
as an intervention into `traditional` forms of knowledge production, 
circulation or sustanance. Similarly it is IP regime i refer to when i talk 
about end user being an frozen concept within it.

On the other hand I am not so sure whether we can extrapolate the conceptual 
and legal framework of `property` into earlier practices. There is a danger 
there. It makes `property` a cultural-legal universal outside the social 
arrangement within which it emerged. This is one area i am at present very 
cautious and unsure about.

Though i agree that there are various complicated arrangements and protocols 
within which knowledge is sustained, practiced and transmitted. And these 
protocols are also about `custodianship` and `withholding`. And these can be 
harsh in its `exclusionary` frameworks. But to call these arrangements 
property would be difficult. If we take the example of `classical music` in 
South Asia, we do see complex social arrangements, codes and protocols that 
helped it survive, elaborate and grow. You have to learn through practice 
under guidance and then only you will be able to belong to it. But i would 
not think it ever articulated a conceptual framework called `property`. 

But, Danny let me add a caveat to your arguments. I think that the problem 
with IP regimes along with one of artificial construction of scarcity is one 
of what Shuddha calls the `unauthorised interlocutors`. This `unauthorised 
interlocutors` could be a problem in other forms of knowledge practices. In 
Mahabharata a brilliant archer called Ekalavya had to give us his thumb for 
the story to continue. He could not prove his authentication in front of the 
`authenticators`. (more of that Sarai reader 04 ....to be out next 

best and thanks for your lovely response...looking forward to carrying forward 
our collective thinking...


1) We would also have to think harder on the american constitutionalism basis 
of lot of the arguments to ground open source ideas of freedom. Martin Hardie 
has written about this in the forthcoming Sarai Reader 04. (forthcoming)

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