Citizen Science Musing: Sharing Information Freely

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By Sheldon Greaves

Readers of this blog will recall that I've discussed the problem of unreasonable restrictions on content published in scientific journals when major publishers charge exorbitant rates for a copy of a single article, and charge hundreds of dollars just to consider an article for publication.

Now, copyright mania has taken a new twist thanks to "Société d'Auteurs Belge – Belgische Auteurs Maatschappij" ("Belgian Author's Society" in French and Flemish) or SABAM. This group is notorious for its activities in pursuit of copyright fees, but their latest is quite remarkable. SABAM is demanding fees from public libraries for books read aloud to children during weekly story hour:

“Each time a dozen or so children attend,” library worker Alexandra Vervaecke told the newspaper. “A while ago we were suddenly contacted by SABAM and told that we have to pay. I have done the calculations: for us it would amount to 250 euro per year.” (Over $300)

Vervaecke added that even older works, like Grimm’s Fairy Tales, are not exempt from SABAM’s fees, because any current edition of the stories would be under copyright.

Leaving aside the short-sightedness of these demands--consider the marketing value of having someone read a story to kids for free--there are larger issues to consider here. One thing I have noted in my rather extensive studies of foreign cultures is that societies are impoverished, both literally and figuratively, when information becomes too closely guarded as a marker of status. In many Eastern and Mid-eastern cultures, information and expertise is almost like a currency that augments one's importance and status. If you share too much information, you "devalue" it.

Shortly before I read this article I was reading a book titled Where There Is No Doctor by David Werner, et al, a fascinating public health guide for villages in developing countries (talk about DIY!). The introduction strongly encourages village medical practitioners not to hold back information from people, but to educate them to the point where they can deal with most health issues themselves. By the way, you can download a free .pdf copy of this remarkable book here.

Maybe the knowledge to heal or keep people healthy is not to be put on the same level as a children's book, but then again, these are things that have long-term consequences. Libraries have story times to help kids learn to appreciate books in order to create literate adults.

One of my aspirations for CSL is to become a hotbed of information sharing, not just data, but practices and skills. Making knowledge and information available to all makes us all richer.


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One Response to Citizen Science Musing: Sharing Information Freely

  1. Sheldon,
    What an excellent link to the Hesperian web site! Their books, such as “Where There Is No Doctor”, will help many 1000’s of people in the developing nations.
    I am going to “steal” this link to add to my Wanderings column 🙂
    For some reason this item and your one on Monsanto reminded me of a Feature, in which I introduced Bio Piracy, in Wanderings #138 from 6 July 2007.

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