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Linux Journal: Why Open Content Matters

Apr 12, 2001, 18:36 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Bryan Pfaffenberger)

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"Don't be misled by the e-commerce hiccup; we're on a digitization juggernaut. Just a few years ago, leather-bound DayTimers dominated business meetings, but no longer; today, you'll find a preponderance of Palm Pilots. As for that novel or newspaper you're reading, doubt it not: digitization is coming. Of course, you needn't worry about print media disappearing overnight; if anything, the Internet is fueling a renaissance of newspaper reading. Beneath the surface, though, print media have changed. The underlying technology is already digital, from the point of creation to the means of national and international distribution. As publishers are trying to capitalize on their digitized product, they're pushing the US Congress to enact legislation granting them what amounts to real property rights in perpetuity over printed material--rights in which even the authors do not share. Coupled with these disturbing legal developments, the digitization of print media archives presages the rise of a world in which access to basic facts and scientific knowledge is parceled out by a state-protected pay-per-view industry--and as you'll learn in this article, that's bad news for democracy. If for-profit copyright holders get their way, democratic notions concerning public access to factual information may seem just as quaint as a DayTimer seems to the Palm-toting digerati."

"In this article, I'll argue that the open content movement--a movement to release written documents with a license similar to the GNU General Public License (GPL)--is beginning to stir for precisely the same reasons that launched the Free Software movement in the 1980s: the realization that a for-profit industry was about to lock up indispensable public knowledge and, in so doing, pose a grave threat to the advancement of knowledge and human welfare. This time, the stakes are, if anything, even greater. If the social goals of the Free Software movement mean anything to you, please--read on. (Fair warning: this is a bit long, but I hope you'll conclude it's worth the effort.)"

"In what follows, I'll argue the healthy democracy depends not only on the ability of citizens to access facts and ideas freely, but also to produce derivative works that substantially incorporate and rework the means of expression found in copyrighted works. Be forewarned: by contemporary standards, my position is a decidedly fringe perspective, notwithstanding the fact that, in my view, it aptly characterizes the view that prevailed during the American republic's first century (a point to which this essay returns)."

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