Intellectual Property Conservancies

Abstract:  Conservancies, which hold real property in trust for public purposes or administer easements restricting future uses of private property, are a successful means of securing public benefits within the system of private property ownership. They have been widely encouraged by governments, through tax regulations. Most of us are generally familiar with the idea that property owners may deed rights or donate easements limiting future development or exploitation to a non-profit organization, while continuing to live on their land or in their historic property. With the increased attention that businesses and individuals are paying to the value of knowledge assets, it should be no surprise the conservancy metaphor is now being extended to intellectual property (IP).

Intellectual Property Conservancies (IPCs) are being conceived as a means to provide public benefits by making digital content donated, or licensed to them, freely available and by ensuring its long-term preservation. As such, they would offer free public access to intellectual property as a way of ‘leveling the playing field’ for rich and poor individuals, and rich and poor countries. The Knowledge Conservancy ( is a non-profit IPC incorporated in August 2000; here, the author, who was involved in its planning, explores the issues any such organization will face.

IPCs are digital libraries and therefore have all the problems associated with digital libraries. In addition, IPCs face a large number of challenges that most digital libraries do not confront. These include:

Obtaining content donations (persuading IP owners of the benefits of giving, possibly without any tax advantage)
Obtaining financial contributions (persuading philanthropists and the general public of the value of free public access)
Obtaining usable digital assets
Creating metadata to support discovery, rights management and preservation
Providing access to potential readers worldwide
Providing long-term, or even ‘perpetual’, access.