Intellectual Property Rights and Communications in Asia: Conflicting Traditions

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Intellectual Property Rights and Communications in Asia: Conflicting Traditions. Pradip Ninan Thomas and Jan Servaes, eds. New Delhi: Sage Publications India, 2006. 262 pp. $69 hbk.

Communication and legal scholars have long been aware of the important role that intellectual property rights play in shaping communication, culture, and access to information. Most of the attention has been paid to the United States, the world's leading producer of intellectual property. However, globalization has made intellectual property rights a critical global issue, subject to international regulation through the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization. Scholars increasingly are focusing their attention on how intellectual property rights affect nations and cultures outside of the United States and the European Union.

This edited volume by Pradip Ninan Thomas and Jan Servaes, both professors at the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Queensland in Australia, focuses on intellectual property rights in Asia. Most of the fifteen chapters were first presented at a conference in 2004 sponsored by the World Association for Christian Communication's Global Studies Program.

As is often the case with a published collection of conference papers, the work is uneven and not as cohesive thematically as it could be. Topics range from the protection of indigenous knowledge to control over sporting events in Australia. The volume does not always succeed in achieving the editors' goal of demonstrating that issues related to intellectual property rights are "fundamentally local and require local solutions."

All of the contributors are critical of the current level of intellectual property rights as tilting too far in favor of capitalist business interests and not taking into account the important cultural and human rights dimensions of granting control over information and knowledge. The editors sum up that concern when they reason that "If access to knowledge in a knowledge economy is a passport to a better quality of life, then its fair distribution and universal availability ought to become a standard norm." Most of the chapters focus on copyright, though a few discuss patents as well. Unfortunately, many of the contributors make the common mistake of conflating expression with knowledge, even though copyright protects only the former and not the latter.

The strongest chapters in this volume include an analysis of the U.S. Trade Representative's intellectual property rights reports regarding the Asia-Pacific region from 1999-2004, a discussion of the likely impact of intellectual property rights on traditional indigenous cultures, and a "thick description" of China's domestic film industry. The chapter on the Chinese film industry demonstrates how the complex interplay between politics, production costs, state control over distribution, and intellectual property rights creates contradictions that stymie China's attempt to embrace a "socialist market economy" for cultural and knowledge production. …