Eli in blockquotes:
Digitization can democratize information, it does allow for greater, broader and for the end user, cheaper access to information [my cynical side says that very little information is truly free and itâ€™s more a question of how much gets subsidized, and whether the costs spread across a given community, but thatâ€™s what I get for hanging out with special librarians].
Of course, “free” here means something like “of such low individual cost as to be non-important” but your point is taken. I do believe, however, that digitization is a democratizing force in information interaction in much the same way that the printing press was a democratizing technology for information interaction. Potentially moreso.
I suppose my point (other than the one on top of my head) is that the devil is in the details when it comes to digitization, particularly in the current climate. There are many and great benefits to the process, but not all of them are automatic. Digitizing content doesnâ€™t help people on the other side of the digital divide get to it, our current copyright climate encourages content owners to make material less available for the exercise of fair use rights (and first sale seems to be a dead issue entirely for digital material) and on the whole, itâ€™s about as easy to lock down or â€œdisappearâ€ digital content as it is to do the same with â€œanalogâ€ works. And I have a one-word example for you: Elsevier.
I suppose that I am just enough of an optimist to see these hurdles as short term, given a wide view of the problem. The digital divide is there, of course, but is shrinking daily (and of course I believe that libraries have an enormous role in this…providing open computer access to patrons, playing the lead role in the cost spreading of the information in digital repositories, etc…). You have a pretty good idea how I stand on copyright issues, and any longtime reader of my blog should know (if not, I’ll refer you here or here). I cannot imagine a situation where, over the next 20-30 years and our generation begins to move into positions of power within the country, that the current copyright regime can hold. There will be a radical overthrow of the current legal understanding of copyright, and it will involve a re-definition of fair use with digital content at the core of the understanding of it, first sale rights will be reimagined…I left a comment on Justin‘s blog a while ago that underlined a bit of what I think is coming:
Add in the bit about “Content creators will rise up against the business interests of the RIAA/MPAA and demand that copyright law be brought into a more sensible form. The next generation of lawmakers will incorporate the Creative Commons licenses into US Copyright law, adding provisions for code as well as consumable media. This will spawn a remix culture that will sweep the globe, pushing the US out of the center of the entertainment industry and relocating it in China, India, and the former Soviet Union.”
I completely agree that Elsevier is the devil, though.