A growing number of academics worldwide, disenchanted by increasingly restrictive copyright practices, are turning to websites that give wide access to their work and offer it to users for free, writes Philip Fine.
The most successful site is Creative Commons, which allows users and creators legally to share and reuse cultural, educational and scientific works. It is the brainchild of Lawrence Lessig, professor of law at Stanford University, and it licenses intellectual property that would formerly have been copyrighted material, allowing free dissemination and non-commercial use.
Other popular initiatives include the Science Commons, the Education Commons and the Academic Commons.
Andy Kaplan-Myrth, one of the project leads at Creative Commons Canada, said academics may not want to exercise all the IP rights the law affords them.
"Copyright laws are stronger than some creators want," he said, speaking at the recent Controlling Intellectual Property conference organised by the Canadian Association of University Teachers.
He said his organisation helps to build a commons of resistance against increasingly restrictive IP protections.
A number of examples of online resources where academics have been sharing their wares were cited by Michael Geist, a Canada research chair in internet and e-commerce law. These include:
- The Public Library of Science, www.plos.org , a popular and increasingly respected open-access scientific journal
- Art and Life in Africa Project, www.uiowa.edu/africart , a University of Iowa initiative that offers educational materials on numerous aspects of African art
- The Health project, http:///healthproject.stanford.edu/ , an online collection of private and public health best practice gathered by Stanford University
- Cyber One at Harvard, http:///blogs.law.harvard.edu/cyberone/ , an online law class that brings together distance learning and campus-based students.
Professor Geist said these examples showed that academics often found dissemination more important than cash rewards. "The currency of academics is the currency of ideas."