Information Society Discourse, Innovation, and Intellectual Property

AuthorMichael McNally
Information Society Discourse, Innovation,
and Intellectual Property
 c
 : This paper examines the discursive relationship between
intellectual property rights (IPRs), innovation, and theories of the informa-
tion society. Using Norman Fairclough’s method, Critical Discourse Analysis,
this paper examines how the idea and rhetoric around an emerging informa-
tion society have been used by neo-liberal policy-makers to strengthen IPRs.
The paper argues that information society theorists such as Daniel Bell and
Manuel Castells extol the benets of innovation while failing to substantive-
ly address the issue of IPRs. Through their writings they present the process
of innovation as a nominalized entity obscuring questions of agency and the
power relations involved in production of information. More importantly,
such writings have naturalized the concept of an information society mak-
ing it appear as common sense and ideologically neutral while obfuscating
the role of IPRs. In turn, policy-makers have used the positive and seemingly
value-free discourse on the information age as a means of framing the need
to strengthen IPRs. This paper includes a specic examination of two major
policy documents produced by the Canadian government that were part of
the recent copyright reform process.
: Cet article examine la relation décousue qui existe entre les
droits de la propriété intellectuelle (DPI), l’innovation et les théories de la
société de l’information. En utilisant la méthode d’«analyse de discours
critique» de Norman Fairclough, cet article examine comment l’idée et la
rhétorique autour d’une société de l’information émergente ont été uti-
290 •  
lisées par les responsables politiques néolibéraux pour renforcer les DPI.
L’article soutient que les théoriciens de la société de l’information tels que
Daniel Bell et Manuel Castells prônent les bénéces de l’innovation tout en
omettant d’aborder les problèmes de DPI de façon substantielle. Dans leurs
écrits, ils présentent le processus d’innovation comme une entité nommée,
ce qui cache les questions d’« agency » ou capacité d’agir, et de relations de
pouvoir impliquées dans la production d’information. Plus particulièrement,
ces écrits ont adapté le concept de «société de l’information» en le faisant
paraître comme le bon sens et idéologiquement neutre, tout en masquant
le rôle des DPI. En retour, les responsables politiques ont utilisé le discours
sur l’ère de l’information, positif et apparemment ne reétant aucune valeur,
pour donner un cadre au besoin de renforcer les DPI. Cet article comprend
un examen particulier de deux importants documents de politiques pro-
duits par le gouvernement canadien qui rent partie du récent processus de
réforme du droit d’auteur.
Over the past forty years an increasing number of commentators from aca-
demia, industry, the media, and government have declared that broad polit-
ical, economic, and social changes taking place demonstrate the emergence
of a new type of society generally called the “information society/age.”1 In-
formation society theorists point to the declining role of manufacturing in
advanced economies and the corresponding rise of service and information-
al industries as evidence of a shift away from industrial capitalism. Concomi-
tant with the increasing economic importance of the informational sector
has been an increased emphasis on the part of governments and industry
to provide greater protection for intellectual property, which has resulted in
a series of international initiatives including the Agreement on Trade-Relat-
ed Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights2 and the World Intellectual Property
Organization Internet treaties.3 More importantly, information society dis-
1 Kenneth Carlaw et al, “Beyond the Hype: Intellectual Property and the Knowledge
Society/Knowledge Economy” (2006) 20:4 J Econ Surveys 632. The authors list thirteen
dierent names used by a variety of authors to describe the information age/knowledge
economy at 669–90.
2 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, 15 April 1994, 1869
UNTS 299, 33 ILM 1197 [TRIPS].
3 WIPO Copyright Treaty, 20 December 1996, 36 ILM 65 (entered into force 2 March 2002)
[WCT]; WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty, 20 December 1996, 36 ILM 76 (entered

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