The developments in information and communication technologies heralding the ‘information age’ are marked by the possibilities of greater dissemination of knowledge and culture.Yet at the same time, stricter copyright laws have created an invisible barrier to knowledge access in the information age. A number of scholars have used the metaphor of ‘second enclosures’ as a way of illustrating how the ‘commons’ of knowledge and culture are increasingly being fenced by the imposition of strict property protections on the intangible domain of intellectual property. It is in this context that a number of initiatives such as ‘Free Software’ and ‘Open Content’ have emerged. These initiatives recognize that the future depends on proactively nurturing a vibrant ‘commons’ of knowledge and cultural resources.
The Open Content model of knowledge creation and dissemination has emerged as a significant way in which we can move beyond the barriers of restrictive licensing.At the same time, it enables us to rethink our relationship to the world of knowledge and cultural production. Inspired by the Free Software movement, Open Content seeks to move away from the traditional user/producer binary in favour of a more participative process of knowledge creation and usage.
This e-Primer introduces the idea of Open Content by locating it within the larger historical context of copyright’s relation to the public domain. It examines the foundational premises of copyright and argues that a number of these premises have to be tested on the basis of the public interest that they purport to serve. It then looks at the ways in which content owners are increasingly using copyright as a tool to create monopolies, and how an alternative paradigm like Open Content can facilitate a democratization of knowledge and culture.This e-Primer focuses on some of the implications for policy makers thinking about information policies, and the advantages that the Open Content model may offer, especially for developing countries.