And we can’t put it back.
I attended the Edinburgh eLearning World Summit in February, 2004, and one of the things said has stuck with me ever since. Donald Clark was talking about the individual empowerment that comes from technology, and I remember him saying that information wants to be free, and the organisations that are struggling to keep information locked away will eventually lose – information will be free.
Eight years on, and we can all attest that he was right. The genie is out of the bottle, and no one has the power to put it back in. Hollywood, Elsevier, Pearson… they can fight it all they want, but their efforts are leaky and with all the will in the world (and the backing of corporatic governments) they will not be able to stop information from becoming free.
The models that we see the established institutions embrace are digitised models of what worked well in the age of information scarcity. An electronic textbook (that retails for £39.99) is a relic. Digital rights management is a challenge made to be overcome. The experience we have had with music can’t have gone unnoticed by these institutions. Do they really believe that they can win.
As wi-fi and mobile computing becomes ubiquitous, the demand for free (or incredibly cheap) information to be quickly and freely available will only increase. As the entrenched interests continue to surround their content with ever increasing layers of barbed wire, more and more of us will find ourselves on the wrong side of the law. I want to be able to copy passages from the books I buy for my iPad Kindle reader as quotes for slides or blog entries – I can’t (easily). I want to be able to snip a 35 second segment of a video clip to make a point – I can’t (easily). I want to be able to read a journal article in my easy chair at home on my iPad – I can’t (easily). The reason for this is because the entrenched interests are so protective of their content that they cripple our access to it.
When I do see a 35 second clip I want to use, I guiltily use sources and tools that make me a pirate – without a sword or eye-patch (maybe I should buy myself a costume to make myself feel better). When I can’t copy a Kindle passage, I find the text elsewhere (I’ve never been unable to find it somewhere) and copy it from an illegal source. I’ve already paid for it, but I have to obtain what I need on a dodgy corner in order to make it useful.
When will the entrenched interests begin to recognise that they have to change their models or they will lose? How many of us have to resort to piracy before business models are put in place that legitimise our activities? The genie is out. It has worked out for music, it can work out for others. I don’t want to be a pirate, but I do want to be able to use what I have legitimately purchased.
As information continues to gain freedoms, information will continue to become increasingly abundant. Why is there so much resistance to a state we have worked towards for hundreds (if not thousands) if years? We have the means to live in an information utopia, but we don’t. We are in a transitional stage, and the entrenched interests, including universities, are fighting tooth and nail to maintain their business as usual models. Why can’t we just embrace the change and build something where everyone wins? It is possible and a very different model will emerge, we just don’t know what it will look like yet.