A Seedy Saturday & intellectual property

I intended my example for this week’s blog question to be a textual artifact in digital form (truly, I did!) but my mind kept returning to artifacts neither print nor digital in form: seeds. This has something to do with Adrian Johns’ statement on policing intellectual property: “Efforts to uphold intellectual property against piracy take place in all areas of today’s economy, but they are most prominent in three: media, pharmaceuticals, and agriculture” (499). This statement resonated with me, in part, because I am part of a group starting a seed library in Cobourg. Last weekend I was promoting the project at our local annual seed exchange and was questioned by a visitor about seed copyrights and whether or not what we were proposing to do was legal. I didn’t have an answer because it was something I had only considered in abstract terms. You hear about the large-scale-agri-business farmer in the states being sued by Monsanto for saving seeds, but I had never really considered the possibility that any one at that seed exchange would be violating copyright laws. We were not (as far as I know) as heirloom, untreated, open-pollinated seeds are what people are interested in, but what would happen if someone donated copyrighted soybean seed containing copyrighted pesticide to the library? It is improbable, but it is possible. This exchange really made me question my assumptions about what I own when it comes to my food and food production. I am determined to educate myself further on the subject.

If anyone is interested in the topic of intellectual property rights and seeds from the perspective of advocates for seed sovereignty, there is a free webinar on the subject happening on March 30. The panelists include Ann Slater of the National Farmers Union, Julie Dawson of the University of Wisconsin Madison and Jack Kloppenburg of the Open Source Seed Initiative. It is currently full, but the materials will be posted to the site the following week. It can be found here: http://seedfreedom.info/events/webinar-seed-freedom-intellectual-property-rights/

Johns, A. (2009). Piracy: the Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates. Chicago: U of Chicago P.

3 thoughts on “A Seedy Saturday & intellectual property”

  1. Hi Holly,

    I think it’s so interesting and strange that copyright can apply to seeds! I am well-versed in the horrors of Monsanto and how they target farmers who use their patented seeds, but I had never thought of this in relation to “copyright.” I looked up the definition of copyright and found this: “the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something (as a literary, musical, or artistic work)” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/copyright). I guess patents are kind of the non-artistic version of copyright, then (not to say that inventions can’t have some art to them). Still, when you think of patents and patent law, you don’t tend to think of it as affecting our food supply. What do you think about the limits this might place on our access to certain types of food if we were to continue down this road? I am curious about the ethical and social implications of the matter, as well as how notions of power come into play here.


  2. Holly and Steph,

    This is so interesting! I vaguely know about ownership issues for corn and soy beens but I thought they were genetically modified. Genetically modified seeds makes a bit more sense to me because they are altered in some way by an external source. But to have patents or copyright on seeds that were created naturally I have difficulty getting my mind around! Steph the ethical and social implications is very interesting. What dire extremes would society need to be in to remove these limitations. Or would those who control the seeds have immense power? I may have taken this to a bit of a post apocalyptic extreme, but still interesting!

    1. Kali, I don’t think your ‘post apocalyptic extreme’ is too much of a leap from the reality of global food security. Take this quotation from scholar and anti-globalization activist Dr. Vandana Shiva: “If they control the seed, they control food. It’s more powerful than bombs, it’s more powerful than guns. This is the best way to control the populations of the world.” If you want to find out more about her work, check out her website: http://www.navdanya.org/.

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