…comes this interesting feedback from our discussion of his recent publication in College and Research Library News. His comments originally were a comment, but I wanted to respond briefly, so I moved them up. His comments quoted, mine in normal text:
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.
I think that Rick is correct in saying that his points may not be clear to everyone involved in the Open Access movement. I’m not certain that anyone believes that information qua information is a public good…at least, I do not espouse such a position. What I do believe is that authors should have the option of releasing their creations to the public at as low a charge as possible, without the control of publishers or other intellectual property issues getting in the way. This is especially true in the case of scholarly publication, but is not limited to it. Authors like Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig releasing their most recent works online does not make them a “public good” in the true economic sense (the intellectual property does not belong to the public) but it does have the same effect as far as the information consumer is concerned.
It is also certainly possible for authors/owners to simply donate their work to the public, as in the case of the photo gallery of Justin Watt. His photos have been used in publications, on websites, and who knows how else. He chose to absorbs the “costs” of the creation and dissemination of the works himself, which is the traditional understanding of “open access.” The author is expected to subsume the costs for the public, thus rendering the costs of the information irrelevant to the public.
Addendum…re: public good. From the Wikipedia:
In economics, a public good is some economic good which possesses two properties:
- It is non-rivalrous, meaning that it does not exhibit scarcity, and that once it has been produced, everyone can benefit from it.
- it is non-excludable, meaning that once it has been created, it is impossible to prevent people from gaining access to the good.
In this particular sense, digital information released under a copyleft or Creative Commons license certainly seems to qualify. Could you point me at the definition you’re using, Rick?