Towards a New Social Contract: Free-Licensing into the Knowledge Commons
Lucie Guibault, Christina Angelopoulos (eds.), Open Content Licensing. From Theory to Practice, Amsterdam University Press 2011
35 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2016
Date Written: August 1, 2011
The knowledge commons rests on the fundamental paradox of information goods: They are privately created with the intent of being published but, once published, they become part of general knowledge and open for all to reproduce and modify. Society created the social contract of copyright, granting a temporary privilege to authors in return for the publication of their works, because of its vital interest in these creations and an assumption that less will be produced if investments cannot be recouped. Thus, a paradox arises, as a result of the two mutually conflicting natures of information goods: As economic objects they need to generate revenues, which implies that free-riding through unpaid access, redistribution and the creation of derivatives of creative products must be excluded. As creative objects they necessarily build on the prior works of others and inspire new works by subsequent authors, meaning that an unbounded flow must be enabled to ensure a continuous creative process.
Copyright law acknowledges this tension and attempts to strike a balance by, on the one hand, enabling commercial exploitation through exclusive rights and, on the other, limiting the duration of these rights and exempting certain forms of copying and reuse. The rise of cultural industries during the twentieth century has tilted the balance in favour of viewing information goods as economic objects. The digital revolution then reformulated the paradox on a new media technological level: information wants to be free and it wants to be expensive.
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