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Before the Wikimedia Foundation was established as the organizational carrier for Wikipedia and its sister projects, the Wikipedia trademark as well as the server infrastructure had been owned by the start-up company, which ran an ad-funded search engine mainly targeting a male audience. Wikimedia was founded over two years after Wikipeda and only after a substantial part of the Spanish Wikipedia community had started a Wikipedia-fork named “Enciclopedia Libre Universal” to prevent Bomis from including advertisments in Wikipedia. Bomis then handed on all Wikipedia-related intellectual property to Wikimedia.

In projects using open or free licensing standards such as Wikipedia (Creative Commons By-Share-Alike license) or Linux (Gnu General Public License)  a “fork” is always a (mostly: latent) option. In a way, the mere possibility of a fork should secure that an organizational carrier is attentive to the needs and positions of the community, whose contributions the project depends on. Of course, forking is also a way to resolve conflicts within communities, for example between sub-communities with different priorieties as the case of BSD Unix.

In the case of Wikimedia, choosing the organizational form of a non-profit foundatiofn allowed for community participation and tax-exempt donations (see “The Importance of Clear Boundaries for Community Participation“); but most of all it was a signal to the community of volunteer contributors that their content will not be exploited by a private enterprise. It is all about trust. Read the rest of this entry »

Milford Bateman’s book Why Doesn’t Microfinance Work? has generated heated discussion, with blows not always struck very far above the belt. Recently, I got involved by recapping and analysing several book reviews published on the web. I was critical of the tone and substance of David Roodman’s review (published on his blog, of which I remain a fan, notwithstanding), because I felt it attacked the person more than the argument, and it didn’t engage with Bateman’s overall point that microfinance is politically useful while economically questionnable.

David Roodman has responded to this challenge in a more elegant and eloquent piece than his original review. Some allegations against Bateman’s writing have been clarified, new ones have appeared. I think Roodman is still off with his accusations of “sloppy thinking” and “extremism”. I would still like to see Roodman engage with Bateman’s overall argument.

Most of the criticisms launched against the book (by diverse authors) have validity; however, I would urge those who dislike the work to beware the trap of accusing Bateman of what they see him as accusing others of, namely malignance. In plainer English: try to measure the book and your reaction by the same standard.

Here are my (less brief than intended) responses to what I see as David Roodman’s main points:

Read the rest of this entry »

Prior to a seminar I hosted at the MPIfG in July with Milford Bateman, I published a review of his book Why Doesn’t Microfinance Work? (reproduced by several other sites). When the book was released this summer, it sold out its first print run within four weeks. It was the basis for an article (with a great cartoon) in the Dutch daily De Pers. It introduced a wider audience to the fundamental doubts surrounding microfinance. It also seems to have made Milford Bateman a fair share of enemies.

My review was resoundingly positive, since I felt that the book expressed growing concerns about microfinance’s impacts and legitimacy with great clarity and poignancy. What astonishes me is the type of criticism and hostility which has greeted the book. While the book sparked some general neutral publicity, the in-depth reviews ranged from cautious praise for raising important questions to heavy-handed attacks on Bateman’s academic integrity.

Some recent reviews:

David Roodman @ cgdev: “I am allergic to (as I perceive it) sloppy thinking …Bateman’s passion seems to lead him to select and distort evidence. I find it hard to fully engage with a piece of analysis in which the conclusions so seem to drive the evidence … I don’t think you need to read this book.”
Liz Blase @ wokai: “We urge that readers not fall prey to Bateman’s infatuation with short-term profits.” (??)
Duncan Green @ oxfam: “A passionate polemic that takes on a development shibboleth – sometimes it feels as though doubting microfinance is as heretical as criticising Nelson Mandela. But Bateman does so.”
Phil @ this blog: “The first book critical book capable of crossing the border between academia and the lay world … The proverbial ‘book’ on why (this) microfinance is not an adequate response to poverty.”
in between
Malcolm Harper @ microfinance focus: “Few readers will agree with everything in it, and most will be irritated by some of it. All of us, however, should think carefully about what Bateman writes.
H-D Seibel: “There is nothing subtle about Bateman’s arguments… The one thing that concerned me was him framing his argument as a war of ideologies… Despite my reservations, Bateman’s book is a must read.” (published on devfinance)
Fehmeen @ microfinance hub: “While some welcome this opportunity to re-think the basic microfinance model, others deem some of his claims exaggerated… We think this book is a worthy effort.”

To me, the intensity of the reactions to Bateman’s book is a gauge for measuring just how worried many in the development industry have become about their poster child. I get the impression that a systematic critique of microfinance touches highly sensitive nerves with many researchers and industry insiders, whose reaction is to challenge the person rather than the argument. Read the rest of this entry »

Governance across borders is all about building and/or changing institutions in a transnational realm. In this regard, existing institutions often turn out to be not so rigid or firm after all. The cartoon below, taken with permission of the author Winston Rowntree from a larger piece at (via), hits the nail on the head:Institutions how they appear and how they areIn the context of copyright as an institution, I like to think of the large monster’s feet representing international copyright treaties such as WTO’s TRIPS Agreement or the WIPO Internet Treaties, the small monster being Shawn Fanning, the programmer of Napster.


When discussing national copyright legislation with lawyers, most discussions end relatively quickly with reference to the inherent necessities of international treaties. Legalize non-commercial file-sharing? In conflict with the Berne three-step test, which is included in the TRIPs Agreement, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, the EU Copyright Directive and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (see also the Declaration on the Three-Step Test by the Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property in Munich). Introduce a so-called cultural flat-rate (see also “Extending Private Copying Levies“)? Not in line with the Three-Step Test, either. Shorten copyright terms below the 50 year threshold? Impossible, at least for WTO member states, which have to abide to the TRIPs Agreement.

And there is, of course, some truth in the prevailing view that most aspects of copyright legislation are already mapped out by international law, leaving national legislatures with only little room for maneuver. Nevertheless, two recent and very antagonistic examples of national copyright reform efforts show that this national leeway is not so small after all.

In sharp contrast to European tendencies to increase scope and length of copyright protection, the Brazilian copyright reform proposal put forward by the governing Worker’s Party includes wide exceptions for non-profit educational uses, a reduction of the copyright term from 70 to 50 years, and it even flirts with the introduction of a cultural flat-rate (see vgrass; an English version of the proposal: PDF). One of the most striking clauses in the bill deals with circumvention of copy protection measures (so-called “DRM“), as is reported by Michael Geist:

Not only does the proposal permit circumvention for fair dealing and public domain purposes, but it establishes equivalent penalties for hindering or preventing the users from exercising their fair dealing rights.  In other words, the Brazilian proposals recognizes what the Supreme Court of Canada stated several years ago – over-protection is just as harmful as under-protection. Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
September 2010
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