Running alongside the open access debate, are debates as to what kinds of information should be shared and how to go about doing it. As I mentioned in the previous post, “open access” is not synonymous with “universal access”, as was stressed by Peter Suber on his “open access overview” page that I linked to.
Thanks to conversations with Max Forte, I realize that the discussion is actually about good old DRM – digital rights management.
Little did I know, that anthropologists and the recording industry have so much in common!
Both are fighting against the “information wants to be free” slogan (who’s author I can’t track down.. someone help please). Both are arguing for some kind of control over how the information will be used. The recording industry has spent millions working on technologies to do this – they want to know who is using what, and they want to control how it is used. Unfortunately for some, their efforts have pretty much failed, and regardless of how many lawsuits they have laid or DRM schemes they created, copyright (read controlled) music finds a way to escape any locks placed on it.
This reality probably spawned the slogan “information wants to be free” since no matter how hard people try to lock it down, it finds a way out – as if it was never meant to be locked down in the first place.
But what about anthropologists? They are taking a different perspective than the artist who depends on copyright to earn a living. For the anthropologist DRM would not be about earning a living, or ensuring payment. It would be about making sure the right people are given access and the wrong people are kept out.
As Max points out, there is a problem with the open access philosophy of “share it with everyone interested” since by making it available to those people, it becomes far too easy for the information to make its way into the wrong places. Here we find the need to establish “degrees of access” as opposed to simply looking at it as “universal” or “closed”. We also need ways of changing such controls as political contexts change. What Max is arguing is that information we consider safe today may not be tomorrow and in this case perhaps it is foolish to share ideas openly, if one also has the option to limit access and therefore limit collateral damage.
It is a debate about control, but perhaps it should be about content. I believe information wants to be free, in that you cannot control how it will be used. DRM will not protect it. The only answer is to establish a chain of responsibility among owners – asking that they do not share it with the wrong people. This is perhaps possible. But if someone really wants it, they will either invent it independently, or find a way to gain access.
So does “Open Access” refer to removing price-barriers to academic research, or simply to making anything accessible on the internet? Ie: I never considered blogging to fit into the Open Access label, but perhaps it does?