Thursday, January 24, 2013

Open Access

Research that is worth funding or facilitating is worth sharing with everyone who can make use of it. 
-Peter Suber "Open Access"

I believe fundamentally that knowledge should be shared.

In reading "Open Access" I have confirmed my beliefs, have been given a language to describe those beliefs, and  have been introduced to a community that shares those beliefs. It is thrilling to know that that community includes the best scientific minds on the planet.

Intellectual property is a strange thing. I don't really like the term "property" for it, because that predisposes people to treating it like a car or a house or a TV. If I take away your TV, I will be watching "the Today Show" while you sit un-entertained staring at a void on your wall on Tuesday morning. If I use your intellectual property you still have access to it. Digital intellectual property is infinitely divisible and perfectly reproducible. Intellectual property is non-rivalrous. It is valuable and people need to find ways to support themselves through creating digital intellectual property, but it shouldn't be thought of in the same way as "property."

Our current system of copyright is broken. It was designed to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts. Its main mechanism of doing so was to grant the copyright holder a time limited monopoly over his or her writings and discoveries. The length of time was 14 years with a 14 year renewal. This has been extended and distorted by numerous laws extending the monopoly to the life of the author plus 70 years and beyond. Corporate influence on lawmakers who have forgotten to be true to copyright's purpose has led us to where we at now, with a system of copyright that impedes the progress of science and useful arts. John N. Berry expands on this poetically in his article in the Library Journal.

Peter Suber outlines a solution,"Open Access." In his words "The basic idea of Open Access is simple: Make research literature available online without price barriers and without most permission barriers."

His book straddles the line between between ideology and practicality. It shows how the scholarly journal publication industry can move smoothly to a future with no access barriers to information while staying financially sound. Much of the book is devoted to dispelling myths about open access. It reads like Suber has been having this debate with publishing and journal insiders, has gotten very good at it, and is now putting it all in a book. For me, the most important parts are the ideology and the knowledge that the scientific community is heading in this direction anyway.

Throughout the book there are hints of a broader context for open access. All digital information can be made open access, all that is required is a place to store the information and the agreement of the content creator. He points out numerous times that this works for scholarly publications because the payment method is not royalty based. The authors are not getting paid for publishing the works, the funding comes from elsewhere. This frees the author to focus on the content and not money, and enables a smooth transition to an open access model. The reasoning behind this type of funding was surely to keep money and politics from influencing science and research, but it has had the wonderful side-effect of allowing OA to flourish.

For the arts the challenges of OA are more difficult, because it functions largely on a royalty scheme. So, for music in particular switching to an OA model would remove a significant type of payment. Or would it? There is a common attitude among the music business that the model is shifting away from royalties, particularly for young musicians. At the same time the remix culture is expanding fast due to inexpensive access to high quality music software. These trends lead the music industry directly into the path of OA. If you aren't making money from royalties and you need access to other artwork to make your own, OA is the obvious answer.

Creative Commons is the most popular form of OA licensing and it has been adopted by Sound Cloud, the most important contemporary sound artist repository site. With every track uploaded to SoundCloud you get the option of what CC license you would like to apply, and you can search the catalog of sounds on SoundCloud for sounds with a particular license.

The Sound Cloud developers have done an excellent job of explaining and making it easy to release work under an open license. I can imagine that this move on their part will have a major influence in expanding the role of Open Access in the music industry.

Youtube has also given the opportunity for content creators to release their videos under a CC BY license: These videos are then available to be remixed by other users, opening many creative options. Creative Commons released a great blog post describing the youtube licensing and creative options surrounding it: Four Million CC-Licensed Videos Uploaded to YouTube! has been at the front of removing the access barriers to sound for a long time. It is a vibrant community of people dedicated to adding to the global pool of sonic artistic material. The beauty of this site is the assistance it provides in attribution. I think the challenge for most is confusion around OA and understanding exactly how to attribute. Freesound makes this easy by keeping an "attribution list" of sounds you have downloaded and giving clear instructions on how to attribute what you use.

We are in a transitionary moment here. We are shifting from false barriers to information and government sanctioned monopolies on information to free information exchange based on a simple human social trait, politeness. Open access and the CC Attribution or CC BY license really boils down to being polite to the content creator. A CC BY license is an honor code. It is saying that information is unlike property, we can all own it and can all benefit from it. As people and artists recognize themselves as a brand public awareness is success and attribution is currency. Knowledge is a shared resource. Just give credit where credit is due.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

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