Thursday, October 06, 2005

Against the Enemies of the Compendium of all Human Knowledge

Lately the controversy surrounding Google’s attempt to make a searchable compendium of all human knowledge has been in the news quite a bit. The controversy is coming from book publishers who are threatening to sue based on alleged copyright law violations.

I think this is an absolute shame. Are these laws in place for the good of the people of planet Earth or are they there to foster wealth in outmoded inefficient business models. Let us ask ourselves what the impact of a fully stocked and searchable compendium of human knowledge would do. I believe that it could very well super-charge the global economy by providing a catalysts for unprecedented collaboration in the sciences and humanities

Folks this idea is not an entirely new one. Over two thousand years ago the scholars of the Hellenic empire had the sagacity to collect every known work of science and literature that Alexander’s conquering armies could find and place them in one location at the Library of Alexandria where scholars from all over the known world could travel and collaborate scientifically. This same idea was upheld by monks during the dark ages that guarded the writings of Plato and Ptolemy and Hypocrites etc. Later as the middle ages progressed these collections that were preserved became the foundation of the University system that survives to this day.

Imagine if you went to university and you had to pay every time you checked out a book from the library. How much would you learn? What if public libraries charged a fee? Where would our civilization be with out the idea of the free dissemination of knowledge?

As Francis Bacon so keenly pointed out “knowledge is power” and I will add to that that any society which controls the distribution of information according to who can afford it will ultimately be a stratified and divided society.

Perhaps I’m missing something here but it makes legal sense to me that if you barrow a book from a digital library with a contractual agreement that that digital record be destroyed after a certain period of time then what you are offering is no different than any other library. Of course this makes it easy for people to break the law but that doesn’t make the library a criminal institution.

I for one am rooting for Google.


This post reminds me of a passage from Aldous Huxley's Doors of Perception and a post I made on usenet. You may find it interesting:

I hope the link still works.

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