Alexis M Waide

Portfolio — and more!

Regulated vs. unregulated acts of ownership

I’ve been thinking about how it’s strange that something like Open Access had to come about to make digital information sources more widely available, and yet no similar idea or concept exists within the printed “analog” sources of information.  I jokingly said something during a class discussion that it’s too bad you can’t just go into a bookstore, grab a book off the shelf and walk out without paying.  Just say “Open Access!” when they ask you to pay.  Of course, we can’t do this because, as my professor for the class Understanding Information said, we never “own” e-sources in a physical way – even if you buy an e-book, it’s never actually “there.”

All this reminded me of an article by Lawrence Lessig about Open Source and Open Access.  I had to go back and find the article because something he said struck me as particularly interesting:

…reading a book in analog space may be an unregulated act. But reading an e-book is a licensed act, because reading an e-book produces a copy… Selling a book in analog space is an unregulated act. Selling an e-book is not. In all these cases, and many more, ordinary uses that were once beyond the reach of the law now plainly fall within the scope of copyright regulation. The default in the analog world was freedom; the default in the digital world is regulation.

(“The people own ideas! New technologies are forcing us to make important choices about how we use books, music, software, and other cultural products. Do we want them to be free–or not?” by Lawrence Lessig from the June 2005 issue of Technology Review)

At first, this concept seemed really backwards to me.  Not that digital works are regulated, but that analog works are not.  Of course selling a book is regulated; as I pointed out already, you can’t just walk into a bookstore and walk out with a book without paying!  But what Lessig means by regulated and unregulated is that most uses of analog books create no copies, whereas by their very nature, digital books always do.  And those digital copies can be taken away more easily than physical print copies.  Are we trading freedom of action and ownership for portability and convenience?


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