Environmentalism and the Rethinking of Intellectual Property

The Mossman Endowment at McGill University presents the D. Lorne Gales Lecture in the History of Science. On Friday, Dec. 4,  Mario Biagioli, Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, will  lecture on Environmentalism and the rethinking of intellectual property.The image of the “commons” (knowledge commons, science commons, creative commons, etc.) has been extraordinarily important in the development of “cultural environmentalism” – perhaps the most important progressive discourse about intellectual property today. Cultural environmentalists champion collaborative modes of knowledge production and the defense of the public domain against the increasingly intensive and extensive privatization of knowledge. Although a strong supporter of the political goals of that movement, Professor Mario Biagioli is concerned by the use of environmental imagery to reconceptualize intellectual property. Starting from critiques of the nature/society dichotomy put forward by science studies practitioners, he argues that the proponents of the “knowledge commons” start with a well-intentioned critique of intellectual property, but end up reinforcing its logic. Because the image of the “commons” and other environmental metaphors do not question the nature/society divide at the roots of intellectual property law, they actually end up reinforcing that which they are meant to question. Prof. Biagioli will begin to sketch out that approach in this lecture, by showing how one of the foundational texts of copyright law – Edward Young’s 1759 Conjectures on Original Composition – cannot maintain the very dichotomy it sets out to establish between nature and society, and ends up casting the author, literally, as a vegetable.

D. Lorne Gales Lecture in the History of Science, Friday Dec. 4, 6:00-7:30 p.m. Room 112, Maass Chemistry Building, 801 Sherbrooke Street West. RSVP at rsvp.libraries@mcgill.ca  or call 514-398-4681. For more information visit: www.mcgill.ca/channels/events/item/?item_id=112353