from the protecting-human-knowledge dept
Last week the Internet Archive announced a new project: “Democracy’s Library.” This hits on a bunch of important topics for us here at Techdirt. First, it’s a travesty that government-funded research and publications are often hidden away, locked up and impossible to access, despite the fact that they were paid for by us, the public. Second, democracy is legitimately under threat across the globe, and getting more access to quality information out to the public is more important than ever before. While I know that some people have been turning their backs on this idea of late, it’s more important than ever that quality information and data is more accessible to more people. Third, as we’ve seen, previous attempts by dedicated activists and individuals to make government data public have unfortunately ended in tragedy, so having strong backing is key here. And… finally, this is all happening at the same time that the largest book publishers in the world, who should be supporting access to knowledge, are literally trying to destroy the Internet Archive.
Let’s break each of these down.
We’ve written for years about how the big academic publishers are responsible for abusing copyright law to lock up important publicly funded knowledge. We’ve seen increasing pushback on this, including just a few months ago when the Biden administration made moves towards requiring all publicly funded research to be immediately available to the public. There’s still a way to go before making that a reality, but it’s a huge, huge step in the right direction. But, if those works are just published randomly here or there, it’s not much use. Having a tool and a place in which to find and sort through all of that knowledge and research is key, and that’s part of what’s so exciting about Democracy’s Library.
Second, anyone who’s been paying attention to, well, everything, has seen that democracy is under threat at home and abroad. And a key tool for authoritarian, anti-democratic forces is to control the distribution of information. Democracy’s Library is a method of getting around that. It’s actually quite fun to just look around and skim what’s already there (and the project is just getting started). I mean, there are tens of thousands of Congressional hearings that are just fascinating, and hopefully will enable even greater research into how democracy works (and, well, doesn’t always work).
Third, as we saw with the horrific prosecution of Aaron Swartz and the ridiculous civil cases against Carl Malamud, both of which were around their activist attempts to make sure the public had access to publicly funded works, this simple concept of having access to things our tax dollars pay for is way, way, way more controversial than it should be. Indeed, part of the Democracy’s Library announcement was the Internet Archive’s Brewster Kahle giving Malamud an award for all of his efforts over the years.
And, of course, for all this to work, these kinds of efforts need to be both sustainable and resilient, so it’s good to also see that the Filecoin Foundation is working with the Internet Archive on this project. I know that it’s become trendy to mock absolutely everything related to cryptocurrency, but there are so many important use cases, and building Democracy’s Library in a manner that is resilient to threats against the Internet Archive’s very existence is key to this sort of thing actually lasting long into the future.
Finally, that takes us to the fact that these threats against the Archive’s existence are not theoretical at all. As we’ve been discussing, the major US book publishers have all been suing the Archive, and demanding millions in damages, that could shut down the entire organization. This is a real threat to this kind of important information sharing.
No matter what, this is an exciting project, and it’s good to see these kinds of positive, beneficial programs happening, even in such troubled times.
Filed Under: access to information, access to knowledge, democracy, democracy’s library, government funded works, library, research
Companies: filecoin foundation, internet archive