Friday, July 05, 2002

Copyright and Open Source

In my professional reading recently, two books complemented each other very strongly. I have just finished Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity by Siva Vaidhyanathan an historical overview of the extension of protection to greater areas. Like mint in my garden, vast areas are now covered, too much for the public good. We should not use the term "Intellectual Property" since that is using the language of those with the greatest interest in protection their personal interests. Information policy, is a good alternative, or information monopoly, to use the terminology of Jefferson who opposed all copyright. This expansion of protection has hindered the progress of the arts and sciences, reversing the intention of copyright as understood by the founding fathers. Some fascinating ideas and history I had not been aware of.

The next book I have begun to read, The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary by Eric S. Raymond tells the story of the Open Source movement. This seems like an example and solution to the problems outlined in Vaidhyanathan. The protection of computing source code has led to bloated office suites, unstable platforms and slow development. Compare hardware advances with software advances to see how protection has affected the industry. The Open Source movement has arisen to bring innovation, and user communities back into software. Librarians will agree with much in this movement. Intellectual freedom, for example, is important to both communities. There is even some intersection of the library and Open Source community (it can only benefit both) at oss4lib

Both books are worth reading and considering. Reading one after the other provides a concrete example of the historical and abstract treatment of the other.