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IP and the City
Restricted Lifescapes and the Wealth of the Commons , by Konrad Becker and Felix Stalder (AT/CH)

Issues of intellectual property and their relationship to urban environments were at the core of World-Information City, World-Information.Org's Bangalore programme of November 2005. Both urban and informationial environments, Konrad Becker and Felix stalder write in this editorial, are shaped by increasing fragmentation.

The booms, bubbles and busts of the digital networking revolution of the 90s have ebbed into normality. The new logic of information economies is interacting with the full range of social and political contexts, producing new systems of domination but also new domains of freedom. It is now that from deep societal transformations the new informational lifescapes start to emerge.

It has become necessary to highlight the strong normalizing forces that shape this process. This is not just a question of abstract information policy. The building of immaterial landscapes has very material consequences for social, cultural and economic realities. With digital restriction technologies and expanded intellectual property regimes on the rise, it is an urgent task to develop new ways to protect and extend the wealth of our intellectual and cultural commons.

Human life is physical and informational at the same time, our physical and cultural dimensions are mutually constitutive. Their interrelations emerging from historical and local context are now more than ever influenced by global transformations in the info sphere. The term "globalization" describes a deep change in how physical and informational spaces are organized and how they intersect with one another to form landscapes, both physical and informational. "Zoning", the establishment of domains governed by special rules, is a key concept to understand these new landscapes.

Physical space is increasingly fragmented into "export zones", special "safety zones", VIP lounges at transportation hubs, gated communities, "no-go areas" and so forth. Just when for the first time in history a majority of humanity lives in cities, their form starts dissolving and is replaced by a patchwork of distinct sectors. Every city has places that are fully global alongside others which are intensely local, "first world" and "third world" are no longer regional identifiers, but signify various patches within a single geographic domain.

Informational landscapes are fragmented by similar processes. What used to be relatively open and accessible cultural spaces are increasingly caved up in special administrative zones, privatized claims of intellectual property, and policed through the ever increasing scope of patents and copyrights. What comes natural to people, to create, transform and share ideas, thoughts, and experiences - as songs, as computer programs, as stories, as new processes how to make things better - is being prohibited by proprietary claims of "data lords" who enforce dominion over their own zones of the cultural landscape. This is accompanied by intense propaganda efforts extolling the "evils" of sharing culture. There is no trespassing, and while their culture is ubiquitous around the globe, we are more and more restricted from making our own.

Counter-movements that talk about the commons instead of proprietary zones have been gathering strength around the globe. The goal is to devise new ways in which information can flow freely from one place to another, from people to people. Instead of deepening fragmentation, information and cultures are held to be a resource produced and used collaboratively, rather than being controlled by particular owners. People should be free to appropriate information as they see fit, based on their own historical and personal needs and desire, rather than having to consume the standardized products of McWorld. More than ever informational commons, accessible under conditions of their own choosing, are needed to help reconnect people bypassed by the standard flows of information and capital.

World-Information City brings together theoreticians and practitioners, artists and lawyers, programmers and musicians who offer a diverse critique of the new regime of physical and informational zoning. They look into alternative models of how to reinvent cultural practices based on a collaborative plurality of commons and, perhaps, imbue fragmentation of space with a new positive sense of shared differences. As each and every one of us produces culture in the course of our daily lifes, we are forced to choose sides: do we, in the myriad of small acts that constitute life in the information society, enforce restrictions or enable access?

Konrad Becker is director of Netbase/t0, Institute for New Culture Technologies

Felix Stalder is lecturer in media economics at the Academy of Art and Design, Zurich, and co-founder of openflows.org

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