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Lamia Karim, 2011: Microfinance and Its Discontents: Women in Debt in Bangladesh. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Microfinance has built a significant part of its reputation on the assertion that small loans empower women. The assumption that every human being has entrepreneurship potential, but only lacks access to credit, underlies this “social business” intervention. The joint appeal of entrepreneurship and empowerment has cajoled many funders and donors to invest in microfinance. But critical research has been shedding doubt on the assumptions of empowerment through microfinance entrepreneurship for quite some time. Can or cannot a direct transfer of credit rouse the dormant and innate entrepreneur which lies within every woman?

Lamia Karim’s brave new book, “Microfinance and its Discontents- Women in Debt is Bangladesh”, delves deep into the social realities within which microfinance operates, in order to answer that question. As an Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oregon, she performed research among the clientele of the four major microfinance NGOs in Bangladesh (Grameen Bank, Proshika, BRAC and ASA) first between 1998 and 1999, and following up in 2007.

Norms and obligations in a rural society are tilted against women, as is demonstrated by a proliferation of ethnographic accounts in Karim’s book. Take, for example, the incident of an elderly widow in Bangladesh, who was caught by her nephew on her way back home after taking a fresh loan from Grameen Bank. He pressured her into handing over the money to him because, he said, as his aunt it was her duty to help him start his business. Read the rest of this entry »

Starting this week and ending in October, I am visiting researcher at the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB). The reason for my stay is a research project on the societal and economic role of the digital public domain, which I am working on together with Jeanette Hofmann. In this context, I started re-reading some of the classic works on the issue, such as David Lange’s “Recognizing the Public Domain” (PDF) from the year 1981.

Photo of Pac Man JohnGiez

Intellectual Property as “a game of conceptual Pac Man”?

While reading through this paper and his assessment of then recent changes in copyright law, several of his conclusions are strikingly similar to the ones made by contemporary copyright critics:

“I will argue that the growth of intellectual property in recent years has been uncontrolled to the point of recklessness.” (p. 147)
“The [copyright] law seemed suddenly to metastasize” (p. 153)
“The field of intellectual property can begin to resemble a game of conceptual Pac Man in which everything in sight is being gobbled up” (p. 156)

Since Lange’s assessments in 1981, however, there have been some of the most fundamental revisions in copyright’s history such as the TRIPS treaty or the subequent WIPO Copyright Treaties and their respective implementation into national law – all further increasing strength and scope of intellectual property rights (for a detailed account of the regulatory changes between 1980 and 2000, see Drahos and Braithwaite 2002). Read the rest of this entry »

A recurrent topic across most fields covered here at governance across borders is standards. In the field of environmental standards, for example, Olga repeatedly discussed how transnational standards and local practices are interrelated (e.g. “From Transnational Standards to Local Practices“). In the field of copyright regulation, many posts deal with the issue of standard proliferation (e.g. “Money Buys You Standards?“) and diffusion (e.g. “Iconic Standards: Regulating and Signaling“) in the case of Creative Commons.

But as always, at least in our recurrent series “Wise Cartoons“, all our words cannot live up to the simple wisdom of illustrations such as the one provided by XKCD below:

Fortunately, the charging one has been solved now that we've all standardized on mini-USB. Or is it micro-USB? Shit.

(leonhard)

PS: For another wise cartoon on standards that features Scott Adam’s Dilbert check out “Google Books and the Kindle Controversy“.

Yesterday, as is reported by the 1709 Blog, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) announced that “Music, Movie, TV and Broadband Leaders Team to Curb Online Content Theft“. The press release not only obtrusively evidences the change in wording from “piracy” to “content theft” (see “Too Sexy for Being an Insult: Framing Piracy“), but also advertised two remarkable initiatives: the introduction of a common framework for so-called “Copyright Alerts” and the foundation of a “Center for Copyright Information“. Taken together, these initiatives constitute the most comprehensive attempt of private regulation in the field of copyright since the (failed) attempt of establishing all-encompassing Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems at the end of the 1990s and the early 2000s (see also “DRM in the Music Industry: Revival or Retreat?“).

Screenshot of the Center for Copyright Information HomepageAccording to the RIAA, the “Copyright Alerts System” will address (alleged) online copyright infringement

with a series of early alerts — up to six — in electronic form, notifying the subscriber that his or her account may have been misused for online content theft of film, TV shows or music. It will also put in place a system of “mitigation measures” intended to stop online content theft on those accounts that appear persistently to fail to respond to repeated Copyright Alerts. Read the rest of this entry »

In their book “Information Feudalism” (2002), Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite argue that the “danger of intellectual property lies in the threat to liberty” (p. 3). Also Jamie Boyle, in his open access book “The Public Domain” (2008, PDF) warns against the potential of strong copyrights to interfere with some of the most basic human rights such as free speech. Only rarely, however, these dangers become so clearly visible as in the current controversy around a Greenpeace campaign video.

It all started with a very successful Superbowl commercial by VW, featuring a child as Darth Vader and being enormously successful on YouTube with over 40 million viewers so far:

Inspired by this commercial, Greenpeace created a parody featuring several kids playing other famous Star Wars characters and attacking VW for its CO2 policies on the campaign website www.vwdarkside.com. When today I wanted to see the video embedded at the site, I however only encountered the message delivered by YouTube that the video was not available due to copyright infringement (see screenshot below). 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.
July 2011
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