Professor James Boyle Wins the 2003 World Technology Award for Law

Main Content

San Francisco 6/25/03 - The World Technology Network (WTN) announced on June 25 that James Boyle, William Neal Reynolds Professor of Law at Duke Law School, has won this year’s World Technology Award in Law for his work on the theory and practice of protecting the “intellectual ecology” of the public domain — the ideas and expressions that are free for all to use or build upon.

The winners were announced in San Francisco at the World Technology Awards gala ceremony — the conclusion of the two-day World Technology Summit. The Awards, which were instituted in 2000, are sponsored by a range of organizations including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, TIME Magazine, Science Magazine, NASDAQ, Microsoft and Technology Review. They honor individuals and corporations from 20 technology-related sectors who are selected by their peers as innovators who perform work of the greatest likely long-term significance.

Award categories include biotechnology, space and energy, ethics, design and law. Previous award winners in other categories include Craig Venter, the leader of the private project to sequence the Human Genome, Tim Berners-Lee, whose work was central to the creation of the World Wide Web, and Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux computer operating system.

Boyle, who came to Duke Law in 2000, said he was honored to receive the award. “It is gratifying personally, of course, but I particularly appreciate the award as a recognition of the importance of the work that I, and colleagues at Duke and around the country, have been doing on the public domain,” he said. “Any achievement here is a collective one. It comes at a particularly nice moment because Duke has just created the first ever Center to study the public domain, and I hope that the award will give impetus to our work.” 

James P. Clark, founder and chairman of the World Technology Network, added: “The World Technology Awards program was created to recognize truly extraordinary innovation on a global scale, the sort of work that could be described as creating our collective future and changing our world. James Boyle’s contribution to the field of intellectual property has been outstanding, and the award is just acknowledgment of that fact.”

In a series of articles and books since his 1992 Theory of Law and Information, Boyle has argued that we have a number of crucial blindspots in the way we understand information and intellectual property. His 1996 book, Shamans, Software and Spleens, focused on the way that our ideas about original creation neglect the importance of accessing and building upon existing creative works. Foucault in Cyberspace argued that we make too many policy decisions about the Internet by entrusting issues to a combination of technology and private enforcement, both of which are immune from public scrutiny. A Politics of Intellectual Property analogized our current politics of intellectual property to the environmental politics of the 1940s and argued that we need to learn from the theoretical and organizational innovations of the environmental movement.

Boyle’s recent work has claimed that we face a second “enclosure movement,” an enclosure of the “commons of the mind.” Boyle argues that this second enclosure movement, an expansion of intellectual property over everything from facts and business methods to gene sequences and digital content, is unlikely to have the same economic benefits as the first — which fenced off common land and turned it into private property in old England.

Beyond his theoretical work, Boyle has helped to found or to advise a number of organizations dealing with these issues, including Creative Commons, Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain, and Public Knowledge.