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Whatever Happened to the Free Spirit that spawned the Modern Internet?

mosaic-1

This afternoon, I was reading a story about cancelled flights—more concerns about terrorist threats—over at MSNBC. The story included an interactive element that lets the reader try out being a baggage screener for two minutes. Beneath the interactive element, “Can You Spot The THREATS?” is this option: “License this Interactive for your Web site.” Clicking through leads to Rights Links (powered) by Copyright Clearance Center, Inc. The cost: $99 for a single Website. Yeah, you read that right. MSNBC is charging for that interactive element.

I first ventured out on what was then called the Information Superhighway in October 1994, using the Mosaic-based browser IBM included with OS/2. Those were wondrous Web days, when people put up sites just for self expression. Linking was a common, peer encouraged activity. You could start at one site and travel to 50 more before boredom overwhelmed.

Alas, the commercial Web is all about moolah. Knowledge comes with a price tag and, worse, a copyright. Only 50 years ago, Francis Crick and James Watson uncovered the structure of DNA. Theirs was a great accomplishment that greatly advanced the study of biology. If Misters Crick and Watson had made their discovery today, they would have needed to secure patents to protect the finding and future profits of those ponying up research funding.

You can spread the blame far around for the near-obsession with copyrights and patents. Organizations like the RIAA or businesses like IBM and Microsoft have been at the forefront of licensing tactics that have all but erased any sense of public ownership or public domain.

As for the Internet, blogging has renewed the info sharing idealism that drove prognosticators to the early Web. The question: How long before the money grubbers, copyright cops and monopolists invade this backway of the Information Superhighway?

[Photo Credit: Wikipedia user Ozguy89; new photo added Nov. 28, 2010]

[Editor's Note: This entry was reposted from the joewilcox.com archive on April 17, 2010, using the original date. It had been offline for about two years. It was restored for context—the question asked six years ago about blogging and also the impact of the Google economy on copyrights.]

Do you have story about copyrights, fair use or free speech that you’d like told? Please email Joe Wilcox: joewilcox at gmail dot com.

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