The Access to Knowledge Mobilization and the New Politics of Intellectual Property

82 Pages Posted: 8 Jan 2009

Date Written: March 2008


Intellectual property law was once an arcane subject. Today it is at the center of some of the most highly charged political contests of our time. In recent years, college students, subsistence farmers, AIDS activists, genomic scientists, and free-software programmers have mobilized to challenge the contours of intellectual property (IP) law. Very recently, some from these groups have begun to develop a shared critique under the umbrella of "access to knowledge" (A2K). Existing accounts of the political economy of the field of IP have suggested that such a mobilization was unlikely. This Article takes the emergence of the A2K mobilization as an opportunity to develop a richer and less deterministic account of the contemporary politics of IP. It draws upon "frame mobilization" literature, which illuminates the role that acts of interpretation play in instigating, promoting, and legitimating collective action.

The frame-analytic perspective teaches that before a group can act it must develop an account of its interests and theorize how to advance these interests. These acts of interpretation are both socially mediated and contingent. Ideas can be a resource for those engaged in mobilization, but one that is not fully in their control. Frames thus can lay the scaffolding for a countermovement even as they pave the way for a movement's success. Law is a key location for framing conflicts because it provides groups with symbolic resources for framing, and because groups struggle within the field of law to gain control over law's normative and instrumental benefits. Law thus exerts a gravitational pull on framing processes. Engagement with law can influence a group's architecture, discourse, and strategies, and can also create areas of overlapping agreement and - as importantly - a language of common disagreement between opposing groups.

The Article closes by suggesting some implications of this point, which should be of interest to those who design legal institutions and who engage in social mobilization. Most intriguing, perhaps, is the role it suggests that law may play in the creation of global publics and polities.

Keywords: access to knowledge, A2K, law and social movements, framing, intellectual property

Suggested Citation

Kapczynski, Amy, The Access to Knowledge Mobilization and the New Politics of Intellectual Property (March 2008). Yale Law Journal, Vol. 117, No. 804, 2008, Available at SSRN: or

Amy Kapczynski (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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