Masthead CMC Magazine / February 1, 1996
 Contemplating Roads Less Traveled, by Kevin Hunt

A Clash of Cultures on the Information Highway

For Gates, the road ahead is one that will service a primarily Western-centric, corporate culture. Yet when contemplating building a world-wide information highway, Gates pays little notice to the possibility that his paradigm might clash with the ways that other cultures go about doing business.

A glaring example of Gates's lack of insight into the cultural landscapes that differ from, and that may not fit nicely into, the future paradigm he advocates is revealed in his discussion of intellectual property and copyright. Gates devotes several pages in his book to discussions of how the new delivery mechanisms enabled through electronic communication will influence the licensing and pricing of intellectual property., all the while ignoring deeper questions about the cultural bias inherent in conceptions of copyright. Yet, as David Porush pointed out in the CMC Magazine in March, this sort of thinking has already led to clashes:

"[T]he inability to achieve agreement on copyright laws governing records, tapes, videos, and books became the major sticking points in our treaty negotiations with China. The issues go deeper, however, than the billions of dollars that may be involved as China prates videos and tapes and books for re-sale to their domestic market... Inside the belly of the lost copyright profits lurks a more devastating assault by Western cultural imperialism on Chinese paradigms of originality. We want one fifth of the world's population to agree with our peculiarly Western ideal of intellectual property, which in turn entails very culture-bound ideas of how knowledge is constructed/created, who owns ideas, and even fundamental notions about the relationship between self and society or between private and public. It is possible that to other cultures, the idea of intellectual property entails a form of slavery or impoverishment."
Gates clearly understands that while the communication advances that are turning books, videos, photographs, and music, into bytes will surely throw into disarray current (culturally specific) laws about copyright and intellectual property, they also have the potential to enable a greater potential for "unauthorized" reproduction. Further, he knows that the collaborative communication technologies that he sings the praises of over and over in his book further call into question traditional Western notions of ownership. Yet Gates refuses to consider how these notions play out in the global arena. But this isn't the --only consideration that Gates seems oblivious to.

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