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From College & Research Libraries News…

Edit: The text of the article in question is actually online: Open Access.

Comes an interesting article by Rick Anderson titled Open Access in the Real World. I don’t think that several of his points are on target, though.

First point:
“While choices made by authors, publishers, and librarians do have an effect on the information marketplace, their choices and actions have little or no effect on the deeper economic reality in which that marketplace exists. That reality is determined in fundamental ways by two simple facts over which the human players in the information economy have little control, and a productive and intelligent conversation must proceed from a recognition of these facts.”

Those facts are: “There is no such thing as free information” and “Information is not a public good.”

To say that authors, publishers, and librarians have little or no effect on the economic reality of the publication marketplace is a bit misleading. It strikes me that much the same thought must have crossed the members of the recording industry bigwigs when the digital music revolution began. In that case, it was even further down the information pipeline..it was the consumer that was creating the change.

While he does point out an often ignored point in his discussion of “free information,” again, I think we’ve missed something. Of course there are costs associated with the creation of information. There are also benefits of said creation. His discussion of the trade-offs of this binary ignores the ability for information to do dual duty. It isn’t impossible for information to both create a return (economic or no) to the author, and also to be available for free to the public.

As well, the costs for archival and such can be spread to such a degree that it is almost literally no cost, and systems to do such are getting better and better every day. Things like the Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe system from Stanford and the Freenet project provide systems where archival of information is nearly invisible, and the cost is incredibly small. The cost for a system that is capable of running the Lockss system would be less than $250 right now.

4 replies on “From College & Research Libraries News…”

Information is not a public good??

Then someone must have had a really good stash of drugs when the Telecommunications Act of 1934 was drafted. Not to mention the establishment of the Federal Depository Library Program. Oh, and there’s little things we call public libraries …

I can see saying, ‘Not all information is a public good,’ or ‘information is not simply a public good,’ or ‘the practicalities of production and dissemination of information does not fit the traditional standards of resources we usually ascribe to “the public good” …’

But no ….

Anderson draws a distinction between “a public good” meaning legally owned by the public, and “the public good” meaning generally good for the public.

To be fair, I think this is somewhat circumspect as well. He uses government documents as an example of information that is a public good…Legally owned by the public. However, he does not address the largest area of information as a public good: the public domain. Many of those heavily involved in Open Access concerns are doing so because of the overtly draconian copyright laws that are creating a paucity of the public domain.

I wasn’t invited to this discussion, but a friend tipped me off that it was happening, and (as the author of the article being discussed) I can’t resist putting in my two cents. Feel free to tell me to get lost. 🙂

First of all, I agree that the behavior of authors and publishers can have certain effects in the information marketplace; what they cannot do is change the fact that information is a)inherently costly and b)not usually a public good. Remember that “public good” is an economic term with an actual definition — it doesn’t just mean what we might like it to mean. Government documents fit that definition (and so, I’ll grant you, does public-domain information). But the whole open access question is really about information that does NOT fit that definition. Too many in our profession want to define all scholarly information as a public good, and that simply doesn’t work.

Anderson draws a distinction between “a public good” meaning legally owned by the public, and “the public good” meaning generally good for the public.To be fair, I think this is somewhat circumspect as well. He uses government documents as an example of information that is a public good…Legally owned by the public. However, he does not address the largest area of information as a public good: the public domain. Many of those heavily involved in Open Access concerns are doing so because of the overtly draconian copyright laws that are creating a paucity of the public domain.

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