Information Has Always Been Dynamic Rather Than Static

from the fascinating dept

AllThingsD points us to a very long, but quite fascinating article by Robert Darnton, Director of the University Library at Harvard, ostensibly about what it means to be a library in the new age, but the article covers a lot more ground than that. In fact, I'd argue that really, only the last paragraph discusses the role of today's library (in a slightly rushed manner), while the previous 48 paragraphs (5,814 words) are a variety of interesting snippets that act as prologue to that final paragraph. Within those first 48 paragraphs, however, there's probably enough material to write about four or five entirely separate posts, from the history of newspapers (they aren't trustworthy, they tended to copy each other and make up stuff, they're not very useful as a record of history -- but are useful as a look at the prism through which people viewed their events), about book publishing (it's always been a mess) to how you determine what's important either for news or a book (no one really knows).

But what comes through is the idea that information is a much more dynamic presence than most people consider. Especially today, people seem to think that once something is written, it's somehow set in stone -- and, in fact, that's why we give automatic copyright to that content. But that's rarely true in history (since the days when text was literally set in stone), even when it was more difficult to "change" a text compared to these days. For example, Darnton tells the following story of Voltaire:
In order to spice up his text and to increase its diffusion, he collaborated with pirates behind the back of his own publisher, adding passages to the pirated editions.
That doesn't seem all that different than seeing folks like Trent Reznor today release his own works on BitTorrent and encouraging others to make mashups with his content. What it comes down to is the idea that most packages of information are recipes. They're a general description of the work, but to make them "spicier" or "sweeter" or (in some cases, we need to admit) "better" people will change and adjust that information. Sometimes it will be by the original creator of that content, but more often it will be by others. And that's not a bad thing (even if strong copyright believers claim it's somehow "immoral"). It's just the nature of information. And while that represents challenges for anyone who's trying to archive all of that information, on the whole it's a process that should be celebrated, rather than feared.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    eleete, Jun 4th, 2008 @ 7:14pm

    OxyMoron

    "It's just the nature of information." wow throw in the word copyright and I'm nothing less than baffled. Information does beg to be free. Ask Jefferson. "he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me." That sums up my thought. It is NOT Property, but it is Intellectual.

    eleete

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    steveballmer, Jun 4th, 2008 @ 7:39pm

    Info in Vista:

    Vista handles info better than those others


    http://fakesteveballmer.blogspot.com

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    ChurchHatesTucker, Jun 4th, 2008 @ 8:53pm

    ExacTly

    "What it comes down to is the idea that most packages of information are recipes."

    And recipes are not copywriteable (last I checked) So we're done here.


    Oh, wait.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Jason, Jun 5th, 2008 @ 5:29am

    people seem to think that once something is written, it's somehow set in stone -- and, in fact, that's why we give automatic copyright to that content.

    The conclusion of this sentence doesn't follow from its premise. Two problems:
    1) we don't give copyright to content, we give it to fixed expressions of an idea;
    2) We don't give automatic copyright to fixed expressions because we believe the fixed expression to be true or factual -- there's no judgment call related to copyright -- we give automatic copyright to fixed expressions in order to protect the economic incentives of a fixed expression (as opposed to an idea or a recipe, which cannot be copyrighted).

    most packages of information are recipes. They're a general description of the work

    A novel is not a "general description" of a novel or some other work, nor is a novel a "package of information." The outline for a novel could probably be described as a "recipe" or "general description," but not the novel itself. Same holds for a poem, a script, etc.

    Your understanding of written forms such as novels, poems, scripts, etc. is disturbingly off-base.

    people will change and adjust that information ... And that's not a bad thing

    Two responses again:
    1) Transformative works should most definitely be legal and the person(s) creating that transformative work should be able to profit from that work if it finds a viable audience, I agree. This is a problem with current fair use restrictions.
    2) However, "changing and adjusting information," if not understood as a transformative act, is a bad principle. If the reason for this isn't clear, go read 1984.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    anonymous, Jun 5th, 2008 @ 6:15am

    plagiarism

    So, you're advocating or at least supporting plagiarism.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Jun 5th, 2008 @ 7:39pm

    Re: plagiarism

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 6th, 2008 @ 12:08am

    Re: plagiarism

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Kevin Donovan, Jun 6th, 2008 @ 11:33am

    Darnton Misses the Boat

    The second part of his article deals with Google Book Search and makes 8 cautionary points. I think most of these are premature or over-hyped: http://blurringborders.com/2008/06/06/libraries-in-the-age-of-google/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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