I am noticing that just about every week, I blog about my computer-friends and family, and I’m sorry for this, but I have to do it again… Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture, was a very interesting read for me because I was already acutely aware of his work, and his work as it had filtered out to the conversations online and in casual settings. In other words, I have already internalised its conclusions to some degree, but not its logic, so I made a pretty careful read of it.
Mostly, I’m still in. Lessig makes a sensible argument about the resistance shown again and again to architectural innovators by the old guard which had marketised previous architectural forms, the regular-old circle of life. But this time, he finds something new and menacing in the resistance. The main thrust of his book (found on 255) is that the guardians are going a little above and beyond this time, that they are trying to take hold of culture itself. If you agree with him, that’s terrifying. I’m not entirely certain that I do. He may be confusing players with the game, but I might be wrong to think that there could ever be a difference between those two categories. Food for thought…
Lessig set the stage for us to understand the nitty-gritty how-to guidelines for Open Source projects as presented by Karl Fogel’s book, Producing Open Source, especially Fogel’s last section (154 on) “Licenses, Copyrights, and Patents” informed by his introduction to GNU Linux ideology in the introductory section (3). The pressure exerted by the GNU license isn’t a direct counter to that deep proprietary system which might scare us after reading anything by Lessig in that it exerts yet another kind of control over use. In fact, most of the license agreements and compliance standards Fogel surveys represent attempts to bridge the divide between the rise of Proprietary and Free Software, so that real people might work and do business both (Lessig would probably approve).
Control over making information/culture/code public features in part of Elena Giglia’s article in D-Lib on the proceedings of a conference on Open Access in a discussion on sharing data. Publication of raw data alongside publication or as a product in itself is an interesting idea and has benefits (more than harms) for the sciences as a whole, although potential costs to the academics and other researchers performing experiments (I would also ask methodological and theoretical questions about the degree to which data gathering and interpretation are not so separated even in our beloved empirical sciences, but never mind, and the idea of standardising presentation for streamlining and search ability is also interesting with pros and cons). But how or if this can be relevant to humanities scholars, I am not certain.
Peter Suber (in the available online chapter of his book Open Access) introduces us to ways in which academics in humanities might benefit from Open Access publications with rhetoric almost as catchy as Lessig’s (I’m a fan): ‘wouldn’t it be great if people who weren’t paid directly for their writing anyway could post it for free?’ We were introduced to the idea of free online publishing in previous weeks, and here juxtaposed with the rest of the week’s discussion it takes on another cast (or at least it shows up better) in that we must think about protecting our content from becoming proprietary (and commercial). It seems a little ironic, and feels a little like looking over our shoulders for Lessig’s Orwellian smoke giant on the horizon. Aren’t the concerns of academics, as Suber says, not about money? And, did anyone think that the Creative Commons licenses some of us added might be improved for use by academics? A new Open Copyright with more targeted (yet still sufficiently broad) goals?