A2K Access to Knowledge

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A2K, i.e. Access To Knowledge = open access to knowledge and knowledge tools for the broadest number of people

URL = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Access_to_Knowledge_movement

A2K is a meme which tries to unify various approaches such as Open Access, Open Content, Open Knowledge, Creative Commons, etc... , under one umbrella. It is also a loose coalition of groups who fight for this goal.


Access to knowledge refers to four different things.

  • 1. Human knowledge-- education, know-how, and the creation of human capital through learning new skills.
  • 2. Information-- like news, medical information, data, and weather reports.
  • 3. Knowledge-embedded goods (KEG's)-- goods where the inputs to production involve significant amounts of scientific and technical knowledge, often but not exclusively protected by intellectual property rights. Some key examples are drugs, electronic hardware, and computer software, but in contemporary economic life, information and intellectual property provide an increasingly important share of almost all valuable goods.
  • 4. Tools for the production of KEG's-- examples include scientific and research tools, materials and compounds for experimentation, computer programs and computer hardware.

The goal of access to knowledge is to improve access to all four of these components of the knowledge economy:

  • 1. Access to human knowledge
  • 2. Access to information
  • 3. Access to KEG's
  • 4. Access to tools for producing KEG's




“A2K is an emerging mobilization that includes software programmers who took to the streets to defeat software patents in Europe, AIDS activists who forced multinational pharmaceutical companies to permit copies of their medicines to be sold in South Africa, and college students who have created a new “free culture” movement to “defend the digital commons”—to select just a few. A2K can also be seen as an emerging set of theoretical commitments that both respond to and reject the key justifications for “intellectual property” law and that seek to develop an alternative account of the operation and importance of information and knowledge, creativity and innovation in the contemporary world. (The quotes reflect the fact that A2K calls the concept of “intellectual property” into question, because of its tendency to reify the form of legal regulation that it represents. Some argue that the term itself should be banished; we nonetheless use it here because most A2K advocates have found it indispensable, as a term that designates the broad and diverse restrictions on the exchange of information and knowledge against which they have emerged and mobilized.) ” (source, the book: Access to Knowledge in the Age of Intellectual Property)

2. Felix Stadler:

"An original stimulus for the a2k movement was the fight over access to anti-retroviral drugs in South Africa. During the 1990s, a new class of drugs had become available to fight the outbreak of HIV/AIDS, greatly improving the live-expectancy of people with the disease. These drugs, however, were sold in developing countries at prohibitively high prices, making them effectively unavailable to most people who needed them. To address this situation, the South-African government amended its laws to facilitate ‘parallel imports’, that is, buying not from official, but third party vendors, particularly Indian and Brazilian manufacturers of generic versions of the drugs. In response, 39 of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturers sued the South African government in 1998 as part of an effort, co-ordinated with US and EU governments, to prevent South Africa importing such products. This prompted an international campaign, lead by groups such as medicines sans frontiers, to support the South African government’s right to make these essential drugs accessible to its people. In 2001, this campaign succeeded when the law suit was withdrawn. This led other developing countries, despite ongoing pressures from the pharmaceuticals companies and Western governments, to issue similar legislation, enabling parallel import and compulsory licenses. In the course of such disputes, developing countries became increasingly vocal in asserting their interests in intellectual property policy and demanded that their needs, which were different from those of the IP industries, be recognized at the highest level of policy making, namely by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a sub-organization of the United Nations. The result of this was the formulation of the development agenda, which stated the need for access to intellectual property to meet development goals and for recognition of the ‘benefits of a rich public domain’ and called for the ‘protection of traditional knowledge’ as explicit goals of further policy development. After years of campaigning and lobbying through governments, the development agenda was formally adopted in 2007. Like the defeat of software patents in the European parliament, the adoption of the development agenda represents a major political victory. For the first time, the value of knowledge regimes other than personal and corporate IP was recognized and it was stated that concern for such forms of property need to be balanced with concern for social development.

The second major focus of the a2k movement is transformation of scientific publishing through open access. There is a well-established tradition that scientists publish their papers to their communities freely and receive no direct compensation for it. Over the last decade, however, the prices for commercial scientific journals, particularly in the natural and life sciences, have risen enormously, putting considerable strain on library budgets and reducing the range of scientists who have access to them. One of the answers to this problem is the creation of open access journals. In these journals, the scientific review process (peer review) is just as rigorous as in traditional ones, the main difference being that the final results, accepted papers, are made available free of charge to everyone, often under a CC license. In many ways, this is simply updating one of the central practices of modern science – submitting research results to the widest possible scrutiny through publication – by taking advantage of the possibilities afforded by the Internet. Since the beginning, with the Budapest Open Access Initiative in 2002, a large number of new open access journals have been created and many public funding bodies are now requiring that research funded by their grants be made freely accessible within a reasonable time span.

Like the Free Software and Free Culture movements, the a2k movement recognizes that, in order to enable free access, new models of production are necessary. How to finance the creation of the first copy? The model that requires the initial development costs to be offset by controlling access to subsequent copies is clearly broken. In the case of open access journals, this is relatively straight forward. Since the costs of running such a journal are comparatively low – after all writing and reviewing the papers is done by the scientists themselves and there are free software solutions to manage the work flow – the money can be raised either through contributions of by the scientists themselves (as part of general research funding) or through endowments and other community-based means. The case for drugs research is much more complex. One approach is to focus on large cash prizes, that is, to reward researchers directly for their work, which can then be made available to all, rather than by granting them patent rights to exploit monopolies. The advantage of a prize system to finance research would be not only that once the drugs have been approved there could be competition between generic manufacturers for production quality and price, but also that research could be more likely to be directed towards areas where there is a social need, but no market because the illnesses mainly affect poor people (for example, tuberculosis). In addition, free access to knowledge financed through prizes would facilitate innovative follow-up and lower prices across the board. Such a system can be justified on ethical as well as on economic grounds. In 2007 this idea was taken up by the World Health Organization which passed a resolution calling for proposals on “a range of incentive mechanisms ... addressing the linkage between the cost of research and development and the price of medicines ... with the objective of addressing diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries.” (http://remix.openflows.com/node/137)


Why Access to Knowledge is an important goal

Jack M. Balkin:

"First, if you can produce the same or greater amounts of these four components and distribute them more widely and equitably both within countries and across national borders, justice demands this.

Second, if you can spur additional innovation and information production in areas that existing market structures currently do not serve-- e.g., drugs for diseases in the third world, educational materials for persons in the poorest countries-- justice also demands this.

Let me put it another way: Access to knowledge means that the right policies for information and knowledge production can increase both the total production of information and knowledge goods, and can distribute them in a more equitable fashion. The goal is first, promoting economic efficiency and development, and second, widespread distribution of those knowledge and informational goods necessary to human flourishing in our particular historical moment� the global networked information economy.

I repeat: It's not just a trade off between equity and efficiency. We are not simply fighting about how to divide up a pie. Access to knowledge is about making a larger pie and distributing it more fairly. Or, at the risk of extending this pie metaphor well beyond its appropriate scope, access to knowledge means giving everyone the skills to make their own pies and share them widely with others." (http://balkin.blogspot.com/2006/04/what-is-access-to-knowledge.html)

A2K and P2P

Jack M. Balkin:

"A2K is about promoting human development by promoting decentralized access to information tools and by encouraging participation in the production of information goods by large numbers of people.

Access to knowledge is about whether information production will be primarily centralized and proprietary or whether large parts of it should be decentralized and participatory. What we've been trying to show in our seminar here at Yale is that a vast range of information policies, ranging from free and open source software to universal service policies in telecom to networks of farmers sharing agricultural information aren't just about stuffing people's Christmas stockings with more information goods, but rather giving individual people tools to think with, build with, form communities with, and then watch these communities take off, enabling people to make their own knowledge and information goods either individually or through peer production models." (http://balkin.blogspot.com/2006/04/what-is-access-to-knowledge.html)

A2K as a Movement

The A2K Movement coalesced around the fight for a new A2K Treaty, part of the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) development agenda.

See http://www.cptech.org/a2k/

It also holds conferences such as the Yale A2K conference in April 2006 [1]

From a 2011 interview with Vera Franz:

"What is the A2K movement, and what issues do its members seek to address?

The access to knowledge (A2K) movement first came together in 2004 to respond to a crisis, namely the increasing imbalance between privatized knowledge (that which is controlled by the intellectual property rights holder) and the knowledge commons (that which is "owned" by the public). This crisis had been precipitated by the advancement by some Northern governments of an economic agenda which has consistently pushed for stronger and broader intellectual property (IP) protection.

For example, the duration of copyright protection has dramatically increased, and as a result our public domain is today only half as big as it would be if we returned to the copyright regime of 80 years ago. Also, why do almost 120 countries not yet have a fair use provision for the blind and visually impaired and hence deny this group access to the world’s knowledge?

The A2K movement set out to address these problems, and people were inspired because intellectual property rights are an integral part of our lives—they affect everything from the availability and price of textbooks, scientific journals, software and medicines to innovation in different fields of technology, as well as free communication on the Internet. Ultimately, intellectual property rights shape the economic, social and political development of every open society and it’s too important to leave the decisions about the form of our IP rules to a few vested interests.

What are some of the most notable accomplishments of the A2K movement so far?

The biggest accomplishment is that it managed to turn a seemingly technocratic issue—copyright and patents—into a political one that people from all walks of life started to care deeply about. Also, the movement has shifted the terms of the debate: away from "more IP is better" to "sometimes less is more." The impact of the movement can be best understood by taking a closer look at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), currently the main multilateral policy maker in this space.

Ten years ago, WIPO was a closed agency largely controlled by a lobby advocating for ever more IP protection. Today, both rhetoric and norm-setting have changed. Thanks to relentless advocacy by civil society, we have a Development Agenda that is seeking to address the concerns of developing countries. And governments are negotiating a Treaty for the Visually Impaired that would enhance access to copyrighted materials for the visually impaired around the world. What major obstacles does the movement face at this moment?

The biggest challenge is the tactic of "forum shifting," where governments, pushed by the IP industry, are relocating negotiations of international law from open into what are often secret forums. A case in point is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), where negotiators and participating lobbyists had to sign nondisclosure agreements. This is hardly a stellar example of transparent and democratic policy making, and it makes it very difficult for the movement to have an impact and make its voice heard.

Another challenge is the ever more aggressive enforcement agenda. Proposals here include pervasive surveillance of everybody’s internet traffic coupled with the threat of disconnection of alleged copyright infringers from the internet—such measures violate basic standards of due process, free expression and privacy. In fact, the A2K struggle has become a struggle for the protection of our human rights online. These aggressive enforcement proposals are not the right way to address infringement. As they are often ineffective, we need to instead think more creatively about business models that combine profit with openness, but also finally arrange for a global licensing regime that will allow people to access works legally and hence ensure compensation for creators.

Given the movement's diversity and its wide variety of approaches, are there any tensions within the movement?

I guess it’s easier to agree on proposals that need to be defeated than agree on solutions to proactively advocate for. That is certainly one challenge that everybody in this movement recognizes, but also works to overcome.

And in the early days, the movement was, at least by some, perceived as a Northern movement. Over the course of the past years however a growing number of Southern participants have turned A2K into something that made sense for them.

Also, there are important forces in the A2K movement that question the centrality of law as such. Reality is shaped by other forces than the law, they point out. They take social practice as the starting and end point and argue that, in times of great technological progress, it might well be that we will improve the condition of humanity more if guided by social practice rather than by the existing law.

For example, if the world is looked at through the lens of WIPO, “piracy” is classified as an “illegal activity” that needs to be extinguished at all cost. But looking at matters through the lens of human development and economic progress, for example in developing countries, one might not always come to the same conclusion. Further, some important businesses would never have developed by always adhering to the narrowest interpretation of the current legal framework." (http://blog.soros.org/2011/02/the-rise-of-the-access-to-knowledge-movement-an-interview-with-vera-franz/)

More Information

  1. The Delicious A2K tag is at http://del.icio.us/tag/a2k
  2. The Wikipedia article is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Access_to_knowledge
  3. There is a dedicated organization at http://www.Access2Knowledge.org
  4. Listen to Vera Franz on Access to Knowledge
  5. The Biblioteca Alexandrina is very active on A2K in the Arab world, at http://www.bibalex.org/a2k/home/home.aspx

For more aspects of the Digital Commons, see also our entries on Free Software and Free Culture


James Boyle:

"Those who are interested in the evolution of the analogy between environmentalism and the movement to recognize and safeguard the public domain can start with the editors’ introductions to the Symposium Cultural Environmentalism @ 10, James Boyle and Lawrence Lessig, eds., Law and Contemporary Problems 70 (2007) 1–21, available at http://www.law.duke.edu/ce10.

The single best chronicle of the Access to Knowledge (“A2K”) movement is Amy Kapczynski, “The Access to Knowledge Mobilization and the New Politics of Intellectual Property,” Yale Law Journal 117 (2008): 804–885. Lawrence Lessig’s work has been a common point of reference: Lawrence Lessig, The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World (New York: Random House, 2001), and Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture (New York: Penguin, 2004). Many of the key political initiatives have come from James Love and the Consumer Project on Technology. A wealth of material can be found at http://www.cptech.org/a2k/ and at Knowledge Ecology International, http://www.keionline.org/index.php. The inaugural edition of the journal Knowledge Ecology Studies presents an informal discussion of the origins of the idea at http://www.kestudies.org/ojs/index.php/kes/article/view/29/53.

For the ways in which the A2K movement has involved both criticism of and attempts to reform international bodies such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (“WIPO”) see James Boyle, “A Manifesto on WIPO and the Future of Intellectual Property,” Duke Law and Technology Review 0009 (2004): 1–12, available at http://www.law.duke.edu/journals/dltr/articles/PDF/2004DLTR0009.pdf, and Christopher May, The World Intellectual Property Organization: Resurgence and the Development Agenda (London: Routledge, 2006).

The minimalist or antimonopolistic attitude toward intellectual property has a long history, as this book has tried to show. The specific concern with the public domain is of more recent origin. The foundational essay was published by my colleague David Lange, “Recognizing the Public Domain,” Law and Contemporary Problems 44, no. 4 (1981): 147–178. I would also recommend Collected Papers, Duke Conference on the Public Domain, ed. James Boyle (Durham, N.C.: Center for the Study of the Public Domain, 2003), which contains scholarly articles on the history, constitutional status, scientific importance, musical significance, property theory, and economic effects of the public domain. The entire volume can be read online at http://www.law.duke.edu/journals/lcp/indexpd.htm.

Finally, Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain, which has generously supported the writing of this book has a wide variety of resources—ranging from scholarly texts to films and comic books—on the subjects of intellectual property, the public domain and idea of an environmentalism for information. Those resources can be found at http://www.law.duke.edu/cspd." (http://www.thepublicdomain.org/download/further-reading-collected/)

Useful links

Collated by Frederick Noronha:

A2K treaty from CPTech: http://www.cptech.org/a2k/a2k_treaty_may9.pdf

Open access (publishing) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_access_(publishing)

Draft Text of the A2K Treaty http://www.cptech.org/a2k/a2k_treaty_may9.pdf

Consumer Project on Technology's A2K resources http://www.cptech.org/a2k/

Seed's Freedom from IPR http://grain.org/i/

Access2Knowledge.org http://www.access2knowledge.org/

Yale Law School A2K Research Program http://www.law.yale.edu/intellectuallife/6542.htm

A2K Brazil http://www.a2kbrasil.org.br/ENG/

A2K Derechos Digitales (Chile) (Spanish) http://www.derechosdigitales.org/a2k/

Bibliotheca Alexandrina's A2K Portal (English/Arabic) http://www.bibalex.org/a2k/

Consumers International's A2Knetwork.org http://a2knetwork.org/

Jack Balkin's "What is Access to Knowledge?" http://balkin.blogspot.com/2006/04/what-is-access-to-knowledge.html

Yochai Benkler's "The Idea of Access to Knowledge" (PDF) http://research.yale.edu/isp/wikiuploads/ybenklerpp.pdf

Peter Suber's Open Access Overview http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm