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Public Access to Information and the Creation of an "Information Commons"

Rob Rao Erica Wiseman Kimiz Dalkir

Presented at ASIST 2004 Annual Meeting; "Managing and Enhancing Information: Cultures and Conflicts" (ASIST AM 04), Providence, Rhode Island, November 13 - 18, 2004


Intellectual property (IP) and intellectual property rights (IPRs) have increased in social, political, and economic importance in North America over the past two decades. There has been much talk of how we have, or are currently in the process of shifting to, an ‘information economy’ and an ‘information society’; and indeed, ‘information’ has become an increasingly valuable property, in the form of books, music, motion pictures, corporate logos and designs. The major holders of this valuable IP have worked hard to have the laws protecting IPRs strengthened, with various consequences for public accessibility. The first part of this paper begins with a brief definition of copyright and a description of just what copyright was originally designed to protect. The second part of this paper focuses on the alternatives to copyright that are being developed in the digital realm, particularly for computer software and the Internet. As part of the battles that are currently being fought over control of this relatively new and somewhat unregulated medium of distribution, we will focus on the ‘open source’ software movement and the attempts to create ‘information commons’ that act to ensure the widest possible public accessibility to information.

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