We now have the ability to easily share knowledge with everyone in the world. I have talked a bit about the problematic transition from a closed information ecosystem to an open model — the most pressing issue in college IT. We’re looking for ways to preserve the expertise that academia has accumulated and which, to a large extent, has been encoded in professional culture.
Ironically, the principle of free access to knowledge, and the practices to support it, have only developed in closed-access institutions. The project now is to decode those practices into explicit policies, and put our money where our mouth is. Naturally, these new policies run against the grain of some of the protectionist policies of the closed model.
Especially with respect to the law, e.g. “intellectual property”, where educational institutions have special status, we need to make sure that leveling the playing field means increasing protections for the public rather than decreasing protections for educational institutions. A similar reevaluation is going on in many different areas: do bloggers deserve the same First Amendment protections as professional/institutional journalists? (See EFF’s Bloggers’ Rights resources.) Do publishers have the right to control all copying of their work? (See Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture.)
In each case, a deal was struck at some point in the past that gave rights to a limited group of people. Now that the tools are available to all, we have to revisit that deal and see whether the limitations on the group were a key factor in striking the balance or simply a historical accident. We probably do need to expand our concept of a free press to include bloggers. As with other First Amendment rights, the more speech the better. Copyright, on the other hand, probably should not be extended to cover the majority of use of creative works. Historically, non-commercial use was generally unregulated; the absolute power of publishers over their work was limited by its scope.
New technology has shifted the balance in a wide range of areas, and now we need to renegotiate the policy deals. The A2K Wiki provides a good overview of these areas and some policy directions.