Saturday, 22 August 2015

Information wants to be free? It is already

 There are many people in the anti-copyright brigade who claim that information wants to be free, that the sum total of human knowledge is our joint heritage and that this is not compatible with copyright law and other regulations that restrict intellectual property.

A lot of things are covered by IPR. What I am not dealing with here is original research that discovers information that is commercially valuable - how to make a particular new plastic, for example. That's a different part of the debate. And I'm not talking about fiction, which might or might not be considered to be information. I'm talking here about the people who like to defend ending or vastly reducing copyright in books because 'information should be free'.

Information IS free. That's what wikipedia is for. Many, probably most, of the facts in my books are - I am fairly confident - available on Wikipedia. Not because I took them from Wikipedia, but because most things end up there sooner or later. You might have to go through a very large number of pages to find everyone of the facts that I have included in a particular book, and it will take a long time, but they should be there somewhere. So someone having to pay for my book about - say - gravity or spies or evoution or demons does not mean that information is not available. The work I have done on collecting and collating and connecting, on expressing and explaining is NOT free, and there is no reason why it should be. People who have freely given their time to write and correct Wikipedia (myself included) are giving you information. You don't need to steal it.

Let's take a step back. Assume I want to know about asteroids. There is lots of information about asteroids available on the NASA website and it's likely to be reliable. I can use this information - it's free - to write a children's book about asteroids. Why would a child read my book rather than look on the NASA website? Because I have selected the most interesting and relevant (for the child) information and presented it in a way that a child reader can understand. I have avoided unnecessary long words and complicated sentences. I have worked with an editor and picture researcher to find suitable images and diagrams that make the information easy for a child to understand and exciting to read.

I am not claiming to have studied lots of asteroids or to have collected data in space. Those are not my areas of expertise. The people who have collected that information have been paid for their work. My area of expertise is finding and presenting information in an appropriately accessible way for my readers. It's a type of work I expect to be paid for. And why not? I do it for 35-40 hours a week, just like people do other jobs, and I have spent many years learning and practising my trade.

If books are stolen by people who think information should be free, publishers won't commission more books. Then everyone will have to read through Wikipedia - plus a gazillion other websites, books and academic journals to find the information that goes into a book such as Evolution. So by all means take the information that is freely available online and through libraries, but if you want the particular expression, presentation, layout, combination and selection that makes a book more than information, please pay for it.