Open, Fauxpen and Nopen

5582667252_b3b46db1ecTo catch you up from my earlier post, the unit of measurement for any culture or society is an idea. I break ideas down into three types:  data, information and knowledge.  Data is the most readily available and almost just…exists.  Law as passed by legislature, regulatory body or court is raw data. As data is put into context and becomes more useful, it transforms to information and then knowledge.

To Hell with the phrase “information wants to be free.”  People in Hell want ice water.  It’s my position that data, information and even some knowledge IS, and by right ought to be, free and open. If you want to keep data and information locked down, the burden should be on you to prove why this should be allowed to happen, not the other way around and people have to fight for the right to access it.

How you measure openness requires an analysis of three separate factors of the idea:  it’s content, container and conveyance.  The content is what it sounds like.  The words, images, code, etc. making up the idea.  The container is how it’s packaged. Is it a book, an article, a picture?  Is it print or electronic?  That sort of thing.  And the conveyance is how it gets into your grubby little hands.  Did you download it from the internet or purchase it from Amazon or carve a few hours out of your day to get it from your library’s ebook collection?

I take a pretty hard line when describing something as “open.”  It needs to be really and truly open and accessible on all three of those aspects.  A person should have the right to legally and physically use, own, remix and share that material.  Print?  Not open.  Electronic that has no monetary cost but can only be used via a proprietary software system?  Not open.  Government website that some low level staffer decided should be copyrighted?  Get out of my face.

In this period of time, ownership – true ownership – is actually the hardest to achieve.  All those books you’ve downloaded for your kindle?  Yeah.  You don’t own them.  Don’t feel bad because the library doesn’t own the eBooks it lends out or the databases it uses now instead of physical copies of scholarly material.  And that has nothing to do with the fact that no one could do research in times of a power outage* and everything to do with the fact that the companies leasing this knowledge refuse to do so without DRM and are basically flipping off the First Sale Doctrine.

Most people speak about data, information and knowledge in terms of Open or Closed/Locked.  That’s too binary for me, and doesn’t take into consideration the shades of grey that do exist here.  Also, it seems like people tend to err on the side of declaring their material “open” when it’s merely “at no cost.”  So really, it’s “Fauxpen.”  You can take the F in Fauxpen to mean “free of charge” …but also the “faux” takes into consideration some of the more deliberate misdirection and untruths that surround some material, like saying you “bought” a Kindle book.

On this continuum, “Open” is an electronic publication that does not required proprietary software to use or manipulate, has no DRM attached and the content is licensed either Creative Commons or Public Domain.  I do realize that some people would consider CC too restrictive, but, like, the world has one Richard Stallman and that may just be enough.   The other end of the continuum is “Nopen”, which is a copyrighted material in a locked format.  I suppose if one wanted to be really precise, you could declare open content, fauxpen conveyance and a nopen container for something like a DRM’d public domain document obtained via a library licensed database.

It may seem a little silly to worry quite so much about language and definitions, but I think that’s part of how we got to some of our problems in the first place.  We let it slide to say someone ‘bought’ a database for our libraries or that all of our materials are ‘free.’  No, we didn’t and no they aren’t!  Libraries are a communal resource and the only institutions in the world dedicated to preserving ideas and guaranteeing access to them.  Preservation = ability to own and access = forever and ever, as long as physically practicable, not to mention intellectual importance and cultural impact of both of those ideas.  Which is why, since the publishing industry is not providing the ability to do that anymore, libraries should get into publishing… but that’s another blog post for another day.


* I heard a library director once use EMPs from possible future thermonuclear war as her excuse to keep purchasing physical copies of law reviews. I kid you not.  That’s my personal Twilight Zone…time enough at last to read but nothing to read but law journal articles….

Photo Credit: potential past via Compfight cc



  1 comment for “Open, Fauxpen and Nopen

  1. Alex
    December 19, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    Nukes are probably less of a threat to electronic resources than Solar Flares are. I would still probably skip the law journals in case of such an event, but most research tools would go back to the dark ages (or at least the 1980s) really fast. There are too many research sources now that just don’t really have print alternatives. Hopefully all the information would just be inaccessible for a while rather than lost, but if enough power hits the grid there’s no real telling about how many servers would come back online once the power lines are fixed.

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