Duke Law School founds first ever university center to study "public domain," the intellectual "commons"

$1 million anonymous gift funds creation of major academic initiative -- "The Center for the Study of the Public Domain."

Duke Law School, Durham, NC. - September 5, 2002 - An anonymous $1 million gift will support the creation of the first ever academic center to study "the public domain," the intellectual commons. The Center's creation comes against the background of a worldwide expansion of intellectual property rights, and marks an attempt to encourage academic research and policy analysis on the correct balance between intellectual property and the public domain. The Center's creation will be announced in Washington DC, September 5th, 2002, during a speech by faculty co-director Professor James Boyle at a National Academies of Sciences Symposium on "The Role of Scientific and Technical Data in the Public Domain."

First of its Kind

"There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of intellectual property centers across the country and across the world" said faculty co-director Professor James Boyle. "This amount of attention makes sense, because intellectual property is of fundamental importance to an information society. But just as important to our culture, science and our system of innovation is material that is not protected by intellectual property: the material that is freely available for all of us to use and build upon, whether in art, or culture or the sciences. We believe that the Center for the Study of the Public Domain is the first university center worldwide created to focus on this other, neglected, side of the picture."

Center Aims to Bring Balance

According to Boyle, the Center's founders and faculty co-directors (Boyle, Professor David Lange, & Professor Jerome Reichman) see the focus on the public domain as a necessary part of the intellectual property system, not an attack on it. Their goal is to restore a balance that recent events have thrown into doubt. "Over the last twenty years intellectual property rights have expanded dramatically, in length, and reach and scope and practical effect," says Boyle. "Now intellectual property rights are asserted over gene sequences and "business methods," over technologically protected material on the internet, over the images of dead celebrities, even in some places, over straightforward compilations of facts. Little by little, the public domain has been shrinking. We hope that the creation of this Center within Duke Law School's Intellectual Property Program will help to bring greater balance to the scholarly and public policy debate on these issues."

Timely Focus

The Center's creation is very timely. In the United States, recent lawsuits against the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and the fact that the Supreme Court will be hearing a constitutional challenge to the Copyright Term Extension Act in October, have focused attention on the potential dangers of intellectual property expansion. Internationally, development economists have expressed concern whether the international intellectual property system is adequately meeting the needs of the developing world, most notably in issues of access to essential medicines, such as AIDS drugs, but also in questioning whether a "one size fits all" intellectual property policy will help poorer countries. In general, the internet has meant that intellectual property, which used to be of interest mainly to large industrial concerns, now affects everyday types of creativity and speech by citizens.

These issues and others were raised at a Duke Conference on the Public Domain last year, an event which was also the first of its kind. http://www.law.duke.edu/pd/ Participants ranged from distinguished scientists, software engineers, and gene-patenting experts, to appropriationist musicians, historians and literary scholars. "It became clear that there was a need here," Boyle said, "You had people from astoundingly different intellectual backgrounds and fields, all saying 'this is something that is now dramatically affecting my work.' We needed a general approach to the problem. In my own scholarship I've called it 'a kind of environmentalism for the information age.' The environmentalist movement made us realize the importance, the function, and the fragility of the natural environment, made us see the environment as something dynamic and important, not just as 'what's left over once we have finished developing.' We want to do the same thing for the public domain."

New Director

The Center's first task was hiring its new Director, Jennifer Jenkins. "The issues are interdisciplinary, so we wanted to hire someone who was an intellectual property lawyer, but also had other skills, other interests. We needed a polymath and we found one in Jennifer Jenkins," said Boyle. Apart from being one of the lawyers involved in defending the publication of the "Wind Done Gone," and in a variety of other high-profile intellectual property cases, Jenkins is also an accomplished video-producer, musician, composer and writer. Her video on appropriation and intellectual property, Nuestra Hernandez, (co-produced with David Lange,) was shown at the Conference on the Public Domain. She has a BA from Rice University and a JD and MA in English from Duke.

First Tasks

The Center will be supporting a major conference in April on "international public goods" and the law and economics of the intellectual property system. Other projects include collaborations with scientists, computer programmers, film-makers, musicians and others working on issues relating to the public domain, amicus curiae briefs in major court cases, such as Eldred v. Ashcroft, (the challenge to the Copyright Term Extension Act) scholarship on property theory and the governing of the commons, and public policy work on new legislation in the area.


David Lange 919 613 7093 lange@law.duke.edu
Jennifer Jenkins 919 613 7270 jenkins@law.duke.edu
James Boyle 919 613 7287 boyle@law.duke.edu

Note: Distinct from Foundation of Similar Name:

Our earlier work was helped by a private Foundation called the Center for the Public Domain, which supported the Duke conference last year and which has now gone out of existence, but the Center for the Study of the Public Domain has a different goal. This is an academic center. Its primary task is to promote interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching on the nature, role and function of the public domain, and the extent to which it is threatened by particular expansions of intellectual property policy. Its secondary role is to translate that scholarship into public policy proposals and pro bono legal work in the public interest � working in collaboration with other groups around the country.