Public Knowledge

The Public's Voice in the Digital Age


Public Knowledge is a public-interest advocacy organization dedicated to fortifying and defending a vibrant "information commons" - the shared information resources and cultural assets that we own as a people. This Washington, D.C. based group speaks in a single voice for a wide spectrum of stakeholders - libraries, educators, scientists, artists, musicians, journalists, consumers, software programmers, civic groups and enlightened businesses. Despite varying concerns in their respective fields, the constituency leaders who comprise Public Knowledge are united in a core conviction, that some fundamental democratic principles and cultural values - openness, public access, and the capacity to create and compete -- must be given new embodiment in the digital age.

Public Knowledge will seek to fulfill four broad goals:


Public Knowledge's programmatic efforts will concentrate on five initiatives.

1. The Digital Consumer Initiative [ ]

Promoting Choice, Competition and Market Fairness

As more commercial transactions move online, consumers are being exposed to entirely new forms of consumer fraud, privacy invasions and inequitable seller-buyer relationships. This project will develop a new, more unified critique of consumers' interests in the digital environment. Among the key issues to be confronted: the use of technology design to erode user control and choice, particularly through "digital rights management" systems, and one-sided "click-wrap" contracts in software and on websites.

As part of the Digital Consumer Initiative, Public Knowledge will:

2. Empowering Creators in the Digital Age [ ]

Making Copyright and Technology Work for Artists

New digital technologies reproduce and distribute information quickly and inexpensively. Thus, they have the potential to give individual creators vast new opportunities to promote and distribute their work outside of traditional media structures. Yet most creators have not been able to take advantage of this promise because of restrictive copyright policies, litigation against new distribution mechanisms and one-sided contracts that strongly favor existing content distributors. The result is that creators and the public often fail to recognize their own interests in copyright law and erroneously accept it as a permanent property right that "belongs" to book, movie and record companies. Yet if the Internet revolution has demonstrated anything, it is that everyone can be a creator, and not just a consumer - and that public knowledge is greatly enriched as a result. Intellectual property law must reflect this truth.

Accordingly, this initiative will reassert a basic but often-forgotten fact: that copyright protections are intended by the Constitution to benefit the public and creators -- authors, freelance journalists, musicians, actors, screenwriters, songwriters, photographers, illustrators and fine artists. To help creators and the public secure their intended benefits from copyright law, this initiative will:

3. Reinventing the Public Domain [ ]

Making Intellectual Property Law Serve Democracy, Science and Culture

The free and open exchange of information and creative expression is a fundamental value in American democracy, science and culture. Yet even as the Internet democratizes access to information and creativity, new technological locks, licensing regimes and unprecedented expansions of intellectual property law are converting materials that were once freely available to everyone into closed, proprietary "product." If the public is going to enjoy broad public access to scientific research and cultural and civic information, pro-active efforts must be undertaken now to describe how the "enclosure of the information commons" is threatening core democratic values.

Accordingly, this initiative will address the urgent challenges posed by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which restricts many legal uses of copyrighted digital content; the recent extension of the term of copyright by twenty years at the expense of the public domain; the radical expansion of patent protections at the expense of innovation, and in the case of pharmaceuticals, human well-being; and the growing use of both copyright and trademark law to restrict free expression and public debate. Specifically, Public Knowledge will:

4. Preserving the Internet Commons [ ]

Assuring an Open Internet that Fosters Innovation and User Control

The vitality of the Internet owes a great deal to its open protocols and end-to-end architecture, which radically empowers users to be more creative and powerful actors in all sorts of arenas, including the marketplace. This core achievement of the Internet is threatened, however, by the increasing use of proprietary hardware, software and e-commerce applications that seek to gain control of important aspects of the Internet. The growing attempts to disable and revamp the fundamental architecture of the Internet have serious implications for technological innovation, competitive markets, consumer sovereignty and civil liberties.

The Internet Commons Project will spotlight these threats to the Internet and intervene in appropriate policy venues when possible. Among the issues that Public Knowledge may address in either a major or supporting role: the importance of open standards and protocols; the role of media concentration in restricting open consumer access to the Internet; and the value of non-proprietary, open source software in providing a cost-efficient and common technical platform for innovation and competition. To pursue such goals, Public Knowledge will:

5. The Global Knowledge Initiative [ ]

Championing the Public's Stake in International Intellectual Property Rights

As the Internet begins to knit nation-states and commerce into a tighter international fabric, new efforts are afoot to change the international intellectual property laws that will govern e-commerce and Internet communications. The outcome of these deliberations will have profound consequences for some of the most basic legal values in American society: free speech, consumer protection, product liability, transparency in government. In particular, new intellectual property regimes at the international level are beginning to intrude upon domestic policymaking in novel ways, bypassing federal and state arenas of policy debate.

The Global Knowledge Initiative will articulate in a more focused way the public's stake in various international intellectual property rights debates. These include the implementation of the TRIPs treaty (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), pending negotiations by the Hague Convention on International Jurisdiction and Foreign Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters, and policies promulgated by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). In this regard, Public Knowledge will:


Gigi B. Sohn is the President and Co-Founder of Public Knowledge. An internationally known communications policy attorney, Gigi seeks to apply her constituency-building and advocacy expertise to intellectual property policy.

From May 1999 to January 2001, Gigi served as a Project Specialist in the Ford Foundation's Media, Arts and Culture unit. In that capacity, she oversaw grantmaking in the Foundation's media policy and technology portfolio, and advised the Foundation on the future direction of the portfolio. While at Ford, Gigi teamed up with her Public Knowledge Co-Founders, Laurie Racine (President of the Center for the Public Domain) and David Bollier in examining the need for a public interest intellectual property rights organization.

Prior to joining the Ford Foundation, Gigi served as Executive Director of the Media Access Project (MAP), a Washington, DC based public interest telecommunications law firm that represents citizens' rights before the Federal Communications Commission and the courts. In recognition of her work at MAP, President Clinton appointed Gigi to serve as a member of his Advisory Committee on the Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters ("Gore Commission") in October 1997. In that same year, she was selected by the American Lawyer magazine as one of the leading public sector lawyers in the country under the age of 45.

Gigi currently holds two academic appointments. She is an Adjunct Professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, in New York City. Gigi is also a Senior Fellow at the University of Melbourne Faculty of Law, Graduate Studies Program in Melbourne, Australia.

Gigi holds a B.S. in Broadcasting and Film, Summa Cum Laude, from the Boston University College of Communication and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Jessica Emami's unique combination of administrative, technical, and policy skills make her the ideal person for Public Knowledge's Executive Assistant position. Prior to joining Public Knowledge, Jessica served in an administrative capacity at the Law Offices of Silber & Perlman, P.A., Alexandria Hospital, the American Seed Trade Association, and The George Washington University.

Jessica's public interest work includes volunteering as Director of Development for CASPIAN, a nationwide organization of concerned citizens united against supermarket and retail "bonus card" schemes.

An accomplished Jazz Pianist, Jessica has been teaching jazz piano since 1998, and has played locally in various group and solo venues since 1990. Currently, she is a member of the University of the District of Columbia Small Jazz ensemble.

Jessica will be receiving her Bachelor of Science in Computer and Information Science from the University of Maryland, University College in May 2002. She looks forward to a lengthy and productive association with Public Knowledge.

Board of Directors

Hal Abelson
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA

David Bollier
Writer and Activist
Amherst, MA

Hon. Reed Hundt
Senior Advisor
McKinsey and Company
Washington, DC

Lawrence Lessig
Stanford Law School
Palo Alto, CA

Laurie Racine
Center for the Public Domain
Chapel Hill, NC

Pamela Samuelson
University of California at Berkeley
Haas Business School - Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA

Gigi B. Sohn
Public Knowledge
Washington, DC


Prudence Adler
Associate Executive Director
Association of Research Libraries
Washington, DC

Jonathan Band
Morrison and Foerster
Washington, DC

Yochai Benkler
New York University Law School
New York, NY

Gigi Bradford
Executive Director
The Center for Arts and Culture
Washington, DC

Denise Caruso
Executive Director
Hybrid Vigor Institute
San Francisco, CA

Julie Cohen
Georgetown University Law School
Washington, DC

Adam Eisgrau
Principal and Director
The Wexler Group
Washington, DC

Peter Jaszi
Washington College of Law
American University
Washington, DC

Jessica Litman
Wayne State University Law School
Detroit, MI

Bruce Perens
Senior Strategist, Linux and Open Source
Hewlett Packard Corporation
Palo Alto, CA

Monroe Price
Cardozo Law School
New York, NY

Arti K. Rai
University of Pennsylvania Law School
Philadelphia, PA

Marc Rotenberg
Executive Director
Electronic Privacy Information Center
Washington, DC

Seth Shulman
Author, Journalist
Watertown, MA

Barbara Simons
Past President
Association for Computing Machinery
Palo Alto, CA

Barry Steinhardt
Associate Director
New York, NY

Gary E. Strong, Director
Queens Borough Public Library
89-11 Merrick Blvd
Jamaica, New York 11432

Jonathan Tasini
National Writers Union
New York, NY

Siva Vaidhyanathan
University of Wisconsin
School of Library and Information Studies
Madison, WI

Jennifer Toomey
Future of Music Coalition
Washington, DC

Steven Weber
University of California at Berkeley
Berkeley, CA

Frederick Weingarten
American Library Association
Office of Information Technology Policy
Washington, DC

Daniel J. Weitzner
Technology and Society Domain Leader
World Wide Web Conortium
Cambridge, MA

Copyright 2002