Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Right to Information Access

"The Right to Information Access" was the theme for the first Jeremiah Kaplan Institute on Libraries, The Information Society, and Social Policy presented by the Penn State University Libraries and the Rock Ethics Institute. Each of the four main speakers addressed the question "Although we are guaranteed the right to free epression, how can we ensure the right to access?". The speakers were John Willinsky, professor of education at Stanford and the founder of the Public Knowledge Project; Maybeth Peters, US Registrar of Copyright; John Palfrey, professor of law at Harvard University and co-author of the book "Born Digital"; and Clifford Lynch, Director of the Coalition of Networked Information.

In the keynote address, John Willinsky talked about the importance of institutional repositories and how we have to do a better job getting faculty to deposit their research there. Researchers worldwide should be able to have access to all of the university's research, whether their institutions subscribe to expensive journals or not. He largely blamed the faculty for not taking the time to deposit their articles, but he also urged libraries to make things as easy as possible. He also talked about his work in building the Open Journal System to make it easier for faculty and nonprofit groups to publish their own journals.

Ms. Peters talked a bit about copyright law in the US, but most of her talk focused on the Google Books settlement. While she thinks that there are several positive outcomes from the proposed settlement, she is concerned that the settlement is actually trying to make an end-run around copyright law. The orphan works component of the settlement is something that Congress should be legislating rather than having it become de facto law because of a class action lawsuit settlement. She is also concerned about the anti-trust implications surrounding Google. Under the settlement Google would have broad powers to make orphaned works available without going through a rigorous search for copyright owners. They would also face no liability if a copyright owner stepped up later--Google would only be required to take down the material. There is a hearing scheduled for mid November on the settlement.

Professor Palfrey reported on some of the findings about "Digital Natives" from his book "Born Digital". Digital Natives are individuals born after 1980 that have access to more than one digital device (computer, phone, iPod, etc.) and are sophisticated users of such devices. Most of the Digital Natives have very different views about copyright and the use of copyrighted materials. Most understand that pirating music and other digital materials is illegal, but they continue to do so anyway. Reasons range from "everybody is doing it" to "I want to stick it to the man". Palfrey is interested in how we can encourage the good things that Digital Natives can do such as bringing new creativity into research while discouraging the bad things such as multitasking during lectures and pirating music.

Clifford Lynch talked about our struggle to reconcile the right to information versus the right to entertainment. That is, the notion of the right to information is a pretty easy sale, but we are more timid about the right to entertainment (novels, music, movies). However, what is viewed as "just entertainment" by some is seen as a subject of scholarly study to others. The lines are not nearly so black and white as some think. He also talked about the right to information access going beyond just making the digital files available. True freedom of access would include the skills and availability to act on the data by modeling it, transforming it, etc.

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