pensées aléatoires

Sunday 30 November 2008

Copyright and the state


Originally uploaded by stephen_downes

Ok here i go with the second post on copyright…

I want to talk about copyrighted material created by stated funded or state owned institutions.
The first occurrence of that happened to me last April, i wanted to visit the computer science class on databases. Now i was pretty busy, so i couldn’t really attend to the lecture more than once or twice… “Not a problem!” i thought, usually people leave extensive material on the internet, especially in cs classes. well that was kind of true, but to access it you needed to be a student of the university (i wasn’t at that time) and go through a fairly complicated registration process using the “Matrikelnummer” and other official data… That was the end of my effort to learn more about databases, at least in Münster.

Why am I saying this, well in a sense this effort to “hide” knowledge, to block access from the public, is basically what every university do when they publish copyrighted material. Why are expensive state funded research published on elsevier? It is so expensive that we couldn’t afford to have it at our institute… (it’s not that relevant for us either, explaining why we prefer not spending the money on them). That might be ok for private university, but for state funded research, the product belongs to the citizen and should be made accessible. I fail to see why university, whose purpose is to preserve, spread and create knowledge should make the teaching content it creates inaccessible to the people they serve (they are civil servants after all). The refreshing and novel approach of (private university Stanford) that gives their classes out for free on itunes and youtube, they aren’t the only one. For more university sharing content for free over the internet see open culture. On the subject of scientific publication i’d like to point to this great article by ars technica, who depicts the current struggle and surprises of the american congress while they where trying to open up acces to state funded medical research.

But that’s not the end, another hilarious story (via crunchgear) was about a student getting sued in germany for creating an iPhone app that was able to provided train schedules for public transport in Berlin, because there is a freaking copyright on the train schedule ! How dumb is that? Who does the train schedule belong to? I would probably in my lack of legal n´knowledge say to no one, or if anyone then the citizen of Berlin… Here you see the devastating effect of copyright on creativity…

I’d like to point out the last 2 posts i want to make on the subject (yeah it’s also for me to not forgett…):

  • “The copyright war” – on the disproportionity of the “two” adversary be it in courts or in lobying work.
  • Copyright in Europe, a menace for democracy? this is what motivated me in the first place to talk about copyright, i’d like to question if what we see at work in the law making process on the subject of copyright point out potential risk for democratie at european level.

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