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IT Littleton Seminar - Howard Besser - NCSU - 04.02.02

Commodification of Information and the Assault on Public Space

from public good to tightly controlled commodity
- info is a public resource, not a commodity, and like other public spaces, it is part of a "Commons"
- librarians are traditional guardians of this public resource
- this commons is under attack by:
licensing replacing sales
pay-per-use model
drastic reduction of public domain and fair use
rightsholders controlling downstream use

public domain, fair use and first sale are important mechanisms to ensure that society has a pool of knowledge to draw from.

pseudo-public spaces = shopping malls

the disappearing of the information commons mirrors the disappearing of public spaces. public baths and gathering spaces are disappearing in all metro centers.

cameras in public and private spaces; invisible invasion of privacy.

these threats to the commons also threaten: privacy, access to info, freedom of speech

u.s. constitution, article 1, section 8 - defines copyright
what has happened to it now?
copyrights owned by consolidators, not creators
licensing is replacing copyright
legislation is lengthening copyright timeframes

*move long-standing common-law or constitutional rights into the arena of person-to-person business transactions where these rights don't apply.*

USCITA - shrink-wrap licensing, extended to digitally downloaded software or works.
DMCA, Sonny Bono term extension act, copyrighting databases in perpetuity (i.e. each time an article is added to lexis/nexis, their entire DB is auto-renewed for another 95 years)

threatened by: very aggressive content industry, term extension, returning out-of-copyright works back to copyright, mickey mouse (disney), elimination of fair use and first sale, licensing, other forms of contract law.

content industry attacking all forms of peer-to-peer networking. (i.e. napster, gnutella, kazaa, morpheus, etc)
difficulty of clearing rights for images, sounds, etc will make it nearly impossible for creators to contribute new material (i.e. nothing to draw from).

Eldred case - surpreme court will hold hearings this summer; claims the sonny bono term extension act is unconstitutional.

reference links: advocates to protect consumer rights
Lee Felsenstein, 'The Commons of Information', Dr. Dobbs Journal, May 1993

answering a question from the audience:
what is Besser's content utopia?
that an author won't be fearful that they cannot publish without the help of a large publisher who will impose upon their freedoms, rights, etc.
can choose to enter into contracts or not.
have copyright be limited to a serious and reasonable timeframe; i.e. 5 years.

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