Barbara Fister on Google and OA

ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy had its annual retreat this month. Barbara Fister, frequent poster to the ACRL blog and a librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, presented a talk there called “Open Access and Books in a Digital World – What Role Should Libraries Play?” Her talk is an interesting exploration of the Google settlement in economic and ethical terms and its meaning for libraries.

I was tickled to see two paragraphs of my Dec. 2004 article on the Google Print project quoted in the conclusion. (I made some predictions and turned out to be right.)

A quotation I especially liked, however, was one I hadn’t seen before. Barbara began her talk with this statement from Thomas Jefferson:

“If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.”

It seems that Jefferson would be in agreement with those who say that the founders wanted only limited property rights to inhere in intellectual property. This statement supports their reading of Article I of the Constitution.

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