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Ask What IP Policy Can Do for You

The second annual Innovate/Activate conference kicked off with great enthusiasm in Berkeley this April. I/A is about IP policy that is in the public interest. Were you part of the battle to take down SOPA and PIPA? Then this community is for you. According to co-founder and organizer Chris Wong, "for many of us the Innovate/ActivateIP system is broken, but we can rebuild it." Legal scholars and activists gathered to set the rebuild agenda.


Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian got the game started with a keynote on "Cut Them Some Slacktivism." He reminded us that January 18 was a watershed moment on the Internet, and it was because of the power of mbilization on the web. The message is don't discount all those folks hanging out on social networks, they are the potential activists of our time.

These days all our big stories tend to break on the web. And here's a takeaway that social documentary filmmakers will love. Ohanian emphasized that stories are still a core element for our activist agenda, especially when it comes to policy. We need to tells tories that everyone can understand, especially until Congress becomes more tech savvy.

With so many conversations to choose from, I could imagine all 180 participants having different stories of their Innovate/Activate experience. Here's more of a snapshot of mine.

Beyond the Benefit Concert: How do we mobilize artists as activists? First check out Air Traffic Control, a collective founded by music managers to use as a platform for managers and musicisans to engage with the causes they care about. As the Center reminds artists across all disciplines--participation is what it means to be a citizen and ATC is about creating opportunities for artists to participate.

There's a distinction between the artist as a spokesperson and as an activist. Scholar and DJ Larisa Mann says that activism for artists is often about fostering a movement that already exists, instead of a new message. In an apt comparison with the DJ model - you're trying to feel the crowd in the room and foster their desired experience with your tools and skill set. As a DJ, Larisa doesn't want to just mix things together, she wants to share the who, what, and where things come from.

Open Access: Libraries are in a battle to get you access to the articles you need! They spend millions of dollars every year on electronic subscriptions. They are limited by structures, but a conversation including Dave Hansen of the Digital Library Copryright Project and Michael Eisen of the Public Library of Science, broke down the challenges and potential solutions. Universities are the key! If there could be a system for compelling academics to publish in open access databases, before pushing out to the formal journals, you cut off the problem before it spirals. But such notions are still idealistic given political and structural challenges. The battle rages on.

Disseminating Research: How do you reach beyond the [insert appropriate policy/discipline here] audience? Many insights including from Techdirt CEO Mike Masnick, but one major point prevailed thanks to Kate Crawford from Microsoft Research - make your language accessible to general audiences. This is about communication after all.

How Gender Matters in Tech Activism: Both men and women are equally essential in bridging the equality gap, and this pervades into all areas of innovation: development, management, and online interaction. Feminist Frequency innovator Ania Sarkeesian poitns out that tech innovations--as obvious as Youtube--are often open spaces for harassment. The gender issue should be integrated into design from the beginning. In the meantime there are a few folks out there ruffling feathers for change: Fatuglyorslutty.com, #mencallmethings, Tiger Beatdown, the Jay Smooth Tedx Talk--just to name a few. The bottom line is we all have to get a little uncomfortable to make sure everyone can be respected in our tech spaces.

Trademark, Patents, and Free Expression: Sonial Katyal, IP litigator extraordinaire, gave a riveting presentation on how trademark law has shifted in the last few years because of enterprising activistis. We need more cases of people willing to challenge the limits of trademark. Think of your(our)selves as a community that can push back against the trademark bullys of the world. My favorite example: pop cuture music group Aqua prevailed against Mattel's attempt to shut down their viral song Barbie Girl. For anyone who now has the lyrics stuck in your head, you're welcome.

Copyright, Exception and Limitations for Education, Libraries & Research: Once again Berkeley's own Dave Hansen gave us the 411 on where copyright lives for the above, and where the exceptions are. Major takeaway: libraries are looking to fair use as an aggressive solution to major limitations. For more on your rights just look to the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries. The conversation, including also Peter Brantley of the Internet Archive and Australia's Delia Browne of P2P, was an impassioned one on the dangers of collective licensing. That can look attractive if you're the rights holder or commercial entity, but not in the public sector, instead it's crippling to be tied to writing more checks from a shrinking pot of money. This session had an enthiastic audience who confidently stood up to declare "We are not pirates!" As we all should.

So what's the proactive agenda in the end?

Well it might never be one singular message. But here are a few thoughts that circulated in group discussions on this very question:

  • We need qualitative AND quantitative research to help determine unifying messages.
  • Let's limit consumer liability.
  • Develop rights and benefits based arguments to counterweight IP.
  • Identify individual stories that resonate.
  • Present a POSITIVE agenda.
  • Develop a network for campaigns.
  • Use game-design influenced strategies.

There's a lot more to tackle beyond these few action items. Be on the look out for the Innovate/Activate coming soon to DC! Share with us your stories and tell us about your campaigns. Until then, welcome to the #innact community!