Information Wants to Be Free
by Mike Banks Valentine
From the Web2001 Internet and Mobile conference and
exposition at the Moscone convention center in San Francisco
August 4-8, comes an interesting set of keynote speakers
offered to attendees. Rather than major computer or software
company CEO's, we have commentators on our culture speaking
to a conference full of web developers and corporate
strategists charged with developing web initiatives.
One very important speaker was Dr. Lawrence Lessig, Stanford
Law professor, speaking on the threat represented by corporate
interests to the creativity of the web. A creativity being
regularly squashed and supressed by legal wrangling and debate.
I attended Dr. Lessig's talk given to web developers at Web2001
9-7-01 and expected a lively debate when I visited his
discussion forum at the Harvard Law web site. To visit and see
posts over a year old is disappointing and worries me. I
purchased his book, "Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace" at the
show and highly recommend it to all small business webmasters.
Dr. Lessig strongly advocates that creativity not be stifled by
intellectual property owners asserting control over software and
coding of web pages. This basically represents a viewpoint (and
only in my own humble opinion, not Dr. Lessig's) in support of
Open Source computing and freely available content for the web
with appropriate copyright protections extending only a short
time to allow the compensation of the creator.
As a list owner that distributes content freely to web publishers
and a columnist that publishes in multiple small business forums
and portals around the web, I am disturbed by the control being
sought by information "owners" over content.
My list at http://yahoogroups.com/group/free-content distributes
articles written by small business owners to publishers of small
business ezines and web sites across the web. We have over 700
members, some representing very large distribution ezines and
high-traffic web sites with potential exposure approaching 5
This approach allows exposure for the authors and results in
sales of products or services from their web sites. The method
of producing and distributing web content is an accepted means
of small business exposure for the little guy. Sometimes we are
infiltrated by publicists and distributors of PR for large content
"owners" seeking wider distribution and access to a small
business market segment.
This inevitably leads to threats from publishers of "affiliate"
articles for distribution. They are suddenly concerned that we are
using their copyrighted articles and book excerpts for purposes
other than those intended by the affiliate programs they are
connected with. They then threaten the list and the affiliates
posting their "articles" (read PR pieces) with copyright violation.
This is bizarre, frustrating and worrisome.
Is it free or not?
Another talk at this conference by Stewart Brand, author of
"How Buildings Learn, What Happens to Them After They Are Built" who
is often quoted as saying "Information wants to be free". He
would be a welcome contributor at the "Free-Content" list and
would probably upset a lot of list participants torn between small
business ecommerce, copyright issues and other business concerns
about "ownership" and protecting that ownership.
Authors who contribute to free content request that their articles
only be used if their "Resource Box" is maintained and a link to
their site is listed. It is doubtful that any would persue violators
in court if that condition were not met, simply because most lack
the financial resources to do so. No money, no law suit. Simple.
Is it free or not?
Many small business writers online contribute to a long list of
article distribution/ announcement lists to gain the widest
possible exposure, yet several major web sites insist on owning
copyright to published articles. I regularly see articles posted
to the Free Content list that are later run by large webzines that
insist on copyright ownership when they run articles. They are
sometimes picked up from Free-Content or one of the other article
distribution lists. How do I know that? Because I know a couple
of writers that have not submitted directly to those lists, yet
they are published by them and lose copyright of their words!
Is it free or not? I can't believe those large ezines would take
it to court if the authors "violate" the copyright claimed by the
large ezines when those articles are used without their knowledge!
Get real guys. If we offer it free, you certainly can't claim to
own copyright as you haven't paid for it and have used the work
without notice to that author.
It is free, I still own it and you can't claim to own it just
because you published it without my knowledge. Too many publishers
are trying to operate on an old paradigm when the writers have
Free content is Free content and remains so.
Mike Valentine does Search Engine Placement for the Small
WebSite101 "Reading List" Weekly Netrepreneur Tip Sheet
Weekly Ezine emphasizing small business on the Internet