Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Global Capitalism and the Fair Distribution of Information in the Marketplace: A Moral Reflection from the Perspective of the Developing World *

Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Global Capitalism and the Fair Distribution of Information in the Marketplace: A Moral Reflection from the Perspective of the Developing World *

Article excerpt

Introduction

We are currently living in the knowledge era that was made possible by a paradigm shift from the economics of things to the economics of information. This shift, which was enabled by modern information and communication technologies, introduced globalization, a global market place, and global capitalism. Furthermore, information and knowledge products have become the most important production factor and access to information has become indispensable to participation in the global economy. This has led to the exponential growth of the global information marketplace as well as the commoditization of a large variety of information products and services. This commoditization of the information marketplace as well as the stricter application of intellectual property rights (IPR) regimes have raised some serious moral and social questions-questions relating to "what should be produced," "how should it be produced and by whom," and "who gets what information." Is it, for example, morally acceptable to exclude poor nations and societies from access to information needed to develop and participate in the global economy?

It is against this background that we investigate the current trends in the global information marketplace and the effect that they have on developing nations. The focus is on current trends in IPR regimes. The analysis is done from a social justice perspective, and a social responsibility model, based on Rawls's distributive justice, and that can be used as a moral guideline for those who regulate the global information market place will be proposed.

Global Capitalism and the Commoditization of Information

Advanced capitalism, globalization and the integration of the world's socio-economic life are major contributors to the commoditization of information. A network of social and economic relationships has been created and it is characterized by the globalization of communication, the development of advanced infostructures (specifically the Internet) and the globalization of labor, production, and finance (Webster, 2002).

Information and knowledge have become vital parts of this new economy and as a valuable resource they are increasingly viewed from an economic perspective as assets from which those who own them should benefit (Lyotard, 1984; Weiss & De Waart, 1998). According to Harris, "...intellectual property is hot property... ; society now recognizes that information is quickly becoming the basis for the new economy, and intellectual property is the new economy's strongest currency" (1997, 4). Drahos (1996: 203) correctly observes that this commoditization of information is gaining not only juristic, but also ideological ascendancy. The commoditization of information is made possible in part by the shift from the economics of things to the economics of information (Evans & Wurster, 1997). In the new paradigm of the economics of information, information has become unbundled from its traditional physical carriers. It can "travel by itself," become interlinked, and be customized, changed, altered, copied, and destroyed at a very low or even zero cost.

However, the economics of information is not based on a flow of free information. It is a fallacy to assume that the use of electronic media minimizes the cost of producing information products. The labor of researching, writing, refereeing, and editing is a major cost factor that may be somewhat reduced by modern information technology (IT), but certainly does not go away. Publishers' overheads such as IT infrastructure, marketing, selling, licensing, and administering access to electronic products cost money. These costs are not negligible. Neither do the costs of dissemination go away.

What causes concern here is not only that information has become a commodity, but also that its commoditization puts essential information in the realm of profit-making whereby the market system, based on supply and demand, becomes the determining factor of what is produced and distributed and to whose benefit (Hayek, 1976). …

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