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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Social Justice, IP and Free Culture

Last year, before becoming a student at Seattle University, I attended the Intellectual Property Law Society (IPLS) sponsored CLE on the intersection of Antitrust and IP. I was very impressed by the panel of speakers that included Daniel Ravicher of Public Patent and Joe Miller of Lewis and Clark's Law School who challenged the assumptions put forward by many of the other pro-corporate-interest speakers by adding a voice for Social Justice that included alternative views of IP and the social harms of some of the policies being discussed.

This year I attended the IPLS sponsored CLE on video games and IP law, and was disappointed that the CLE did not allocate time to social justice issues related to the topic at hand. The CLE covered several topics that have a potential social justice impact such as user-owned IP in massive multilayer online games, the rating of video games, and file-sharing via peer to peer networks. I was hopping to see at least one speaker address these issues from a user's perspective.

Unfortunately, the CLE not only ignored social justice issues but also artificially portrayed one on the most influential online communities for social justice movements, Second Life. Second Life was painted as a shallow chat and cybersex service that has squandered its IP rights by allowing its users to retain copyright on everything they create. This depiction failed to mention of some of the extremely positive aspects of Second Life. Second Life has become an online community for both academics and nonprofits who wish to reach a wider audience. This last year I attended a lecture in Second Life sponsored by Harvard's Law School as part of their Law in the Court of Public Opinion extensions class. The lecture was free and anyone could register and participate regardless economic standing or geographic location.

On the nonprofit front, Second Life has become a gathering place for organization like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Creative Commons who advocate for users rights online and alternatives to traditional copyright. Their events last year included an interview with the highly esteemed Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner that respectfully challenged some of his proposition in his recent book "Not a Suicide Pact : The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency". Organizations like UNICEF and Global Kids have reached out to users in Teen Second Life as a vehicle to involve teens in community outreach activism on global and local issues.

I hope next year's CLE on IP returns to the thoughtful dialogue about social justice that brought me to SU. To help realize this goal I will be starting a chapter of the socially conscious IP student organization Free Culture. If you have interest in helping balance the prospective on IP and Social Justice that Seattle University puts forward, please feel free to contact me, roweb@Seattleu.edu or Brian@freedomforip.org.

Thank you,

Brian Rowe
1L Seattle University
freedomforip.org

PS this Letter is in the Public Domain, No copyright has been reserved.

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