Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Chronicle: 11/19/2004: In the Copyright Wars, This Scholar Sides With the Anarchists

The Chronicle: 11/19/2004: In the Copyright Wars, This Scholar Sides With the Anarchists: "Anarchist in the Library"

Scott Carlson provides a good journalistic review of Siva Vaidhyanathan's recent books: Copyrights and Copywrongs (2001) and his most recent book, The Anarchist in the Library (2004).

What I find more intriguing is the excerpt from Vaidhyanathan's The Anarchist in the Library:

"If books became streams of data rather than objects for sale, they could be metered, rendering libraries superfluous or relegating them to vendor status. There would be nothing 'public' about them. ... A patron would enter a credit card or debit card to access databases of text, music, video, or facts. The computer would charge the card by the minute or the megabyte. ... The emerging pay-per-view regime could signal the death of the liberal Enlightenment project and thus the public library itself."
This really does speak to the impact of technology, but more importantly social policy, on the future of libraries. Technology makes possible social policy that could radically change the intent of intellectual property legislation. Going all the way back to the Statute of Anne (1710), the rights of the creators of intellectual property have been held in balance with the public good. The concept of a "public domain" was created. The idea was to protect the rights of the creator of intellectual property for a short period, but then to move that intellectual property to the public domain, thus insuring incentive for the creator and ultimate benefit for society.

Libraries have in many ways been curators of the public domain. If that disappears, what will be their role?