A New Dark Age?

Argh. Me tired. Baby cry. Dissertation hard. Job market taxing.

I wanted to take some time, gather what brain power I could, and point to an interesting post over at the Long Now Fondation on the New York Times' decision to allow free access to their web publication. Mrxk put up a quick reflection on the Times going free the other day, highlighting something that excites most of us in the Free Culture movement:

Starting on Wednesday, access to the archives will be available for free back to 1987, and as well as stories before 1923, which are in the public domain, Schiller said.

This is fantastic, no doubt about it. What Alexander Rose, author of the Long Foundation article "Is there more cultural value in the New York Times or Mickey Mouse" wonders about those missing 64 years. Perhaps we would like to read those articles too. Perhaps.

Those familiar with Lawrence Lessig's work Free Culture already got the reference from Rose's title. Those missing 64 years are caught up in the current legal and congressional debates over copyright (or copywrong, depending on one's perspective). The Disney corporation's powerful lawyers and lobbyists spends millions, as in hundreds of millions, to protect their intellectual property. And for the past 64 years this has meant preventing the constitutional update of public domain. As Rose points out, given the complexity of copyright law, the Times couldn't give that material away if it wanted to.

Rose ends his essay with an interesting quesiton:

I wonder what people will think about this time far into the future? A dark ages — not created by war, famine, depression, or even technological failure, but a small whistling mouse.

While hyperbolic (hopefully?), Rose raises an interesting question, one which I have been circling for some time now. if our economic and cultural development becomes increasingly dependent upon the free exchange and remixing of information, then how long until our strict intellectual property regulations begin to cripple us? I've been working a lot with Tapscott and Williams' 21st century business primer Wikinomics for my diss. They stress to CEO's and managers that failure to integrate a corporation into the free-flowing open source communities blossoming on the web could lead to stagnation, alienation, and bankruptcy. Hmm... what about the rest of us? How might continuing legal restrictions stagnate other aspects of our culture?

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