Librarians call for information commons at Conference

Contact: Carrie Russell


For Immediate Release

June 11, 2002

Librarians call for "information commons" at Conference

Advocates say alternative vision of information a "necessary antidote" to "excessive" intellectual property rules

Advocates of alternative ways to share research and creative works will be the focus of four presentations at the American Library Association Annual (ALA) Conference in Atlanta, June 13 to 19. Conference attendees will have the opportunity to hear about the "information commons," a relatively new term used to describe places, services and processes that promote the sharing of information unfettered by overly restrictive intellectual property laws.

"The 'information commons' reminds us that open access to ideas is the lifeblood of democracy, and that new ideas are not created in isolation, but are the result of cumulative processes of sharing," said ALA President John W. Berry. "A vibrant 'information commons' is a necessary alternative to privatizing knowledge and research, making it less accessible as sources for new creations."

"Providing access to information is what libraries are all about," said ALA Past President Nancy Kranich. "As information professionals, librarians have a social responsibility to speak out when public access to information is excessively restricted. Our concern with intellectual property issues is a direct result of legal and technological trends that give content industries too much control over information and that run roughshod over Constitutionally-mandated balances between access and incentive. The attention to copyright issues at this conference is symptomatic of the degree to which recent trends are a threat to the democratic ideals embodied in our nation's libraries."

ALA representatives point out that the "information commons" is not opposed to the marketing of information. "On the contrary," said Linda Crowe, director of Bay Library and Information Systems. "Librarians and other supporters of the commons applaud a healthy market in ideas. The 'information commons' is an important element in the creation of new ideas for the market. Authors, musicians, filmmakers and other creators all rely on this vibrant resource for the raw material of their creations. Closing down the 'information commons' will have a harmful, long-term impact on the creation of new information for the marketplace."

The presentations deal with issues related to the idea of an "information commons." In the featured address, Stanford University Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, a well-known author on the Internet and access to information, will describe the need for a healthy public domain of information to spur creative innovation. Lessig is co-founder of the recently launched, non-profit organization, Creative Commons, which seeks to find ways for creators to designate their work as public domain works not restricted by copyright.

Lessig also will present an award on behalf of ALA's Office for Information Technology Policy to L. Raymond Patterson, a professor at the University of Georgia School of Law. Patterson, a widely recognized expert on the history of copyright law, is being recognized for his distinguished contributions to understanding copyright with "The L. Raymond Patterson Award: In Support of Users' Rights," an award named in his honor.

In addition three panels will discuss issues related to the "information commons."

  • Our Common Wealth: Libraries, Copyright, and the Fate of the Information Commons, June 15,10:30 a.m. to noon, at the Georgia World Convention Center, featuring David Bollier, author of "Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of our Common Wealth;" Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of "Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity;" and Kenneth Frazier, director of University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries.
  • Pirates on the Commons: Legal and Political Assaults on Information Access by the Expanding Domain of Copyright, June 16, 9:30 a.m. to noon, Hilton Ballroom A features Patterson; Adam Eisgrau, an attorney who formerly worked for ALA and played a prominent role in establishing a coalition to oppose the Digital Millennium Copyright Act; Mary Case, Association of Research Libraries; and Carrie Russell, ALA.
  • Old, New, Borrowed and Blue: Science & Technology Intellectual Property Issues in the Digital Age, June 17, 8:30 a.m.-noon, Hilton Salon A, will examine the effects of intellectual property issues on scientific research and technological development. Panelists include Dr. Allen Covich, Colorado State University; Linda S. Dobb, Bowling Green State University; and Russell.