Friday, October 08, 2010

The juxtaposition of a particular committee meeting and my reading of an article in WIRED* about the first hackers has me thinking about the idea that information wants to be free. As a librarian, I believe that . . . to an extent. I also believe in intellectual property, and that it's not fair to copy big hunks of someone else's work and present it as your own. I do believe that mechanisms must be in place to allow the free sharing of stuff you don't want to own, or don't have room (real shelf space or data storage space) to own. Just like you might like reading each new Daniel Steel or James Patterson print book and not want to keep it forever, mightn't you want your access to an ebook copy be transient?

Somewhere else I read something along the lines of "you know you have a pair of sunglasses that cost $150, quit complaining about buying a special ebook reader for that much." Which really annoys me: I don't live as near to the poverty line as so many library users I see daily, and I yet would never dream of spending that kind of money on shades. I can be a tech-savvy[ish] reader of yours, and still think $150 is a lot of money.

I digress. Free information. Free information is great, it's democratic. It's a value the early tech heads espoused, and various companies seem to be taking it away, whether in the form of net neutrality or DRM and other schemes that make customarily legitimate sharing -- like sharing a work via a library -- really hard to do. It's looking like the new ebooks my library will get will be kind of limited. If we buy the rights to two copies of the newest Grisham, only two patrons will be able to "have" it at once. Our downloadable audio does not have that constraint. What's the point of "having" a digital version of something if only one person can have it at a time?

Maybe it will work out better than I think.

*"Geek Power: How Hacker Culture Conquered the World," by Steven Levy, May 2010

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