Who Owns What We Know, and Why it Matters? The History of Privatization of Scholarship

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Presented at the Commoners and the Changing Commons: Livelihoods, Environmental Security, and Shared Knowledge, the Fourteenth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons, Mt. Fuji, Japan, June 3-7, 2013. Bryant users may access this here.


scientific commons; commercialization; culture; history of science; intellectual property law; open access


We live in a knowledge age in which various forms of knowledge and culture enter into the building of our living together on the planet and are the main source of economic growth. Scientific knowledge, technological innovation, cultural creativity and academic advance are certainly involved with it and play a key role in contemporary times as humanity faces unprecedented challenges. Ownership and access to scientific knowledge are contested. There is a clear tension between calls for openness and sharing of scientific knowledge and, more broadly, for the recognition of knowledge commons and the involvement of commercial interested in the production and dissemination of scientific knowledge. In this paper, I explore the historical roots of this tension going back to the emergence of scientific publications and looking at the key developments in the evolution of the relationship between commercial interest and the production of scientific knowledge. This analysis reveals that cultural repertoires that are deployed by advocates, scholars, and commentators in today’s debates over scientific commons run deep into the history of scholarship production and largely reproduce an inherent tension between openness and commercialization that has always contributed to the development of science since the 1600s.