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Information commons

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  1. A communal space, often with library research computers (or even a coffee shop) and a more free-flowing staff than with the traditional reference desk setup. It is intended to be more inviting, open, and productive than earlier architectural designs; many libraries have adopted some form of an information commons model for a remodeled public services area.
  2. Alternativly the information commons can also refer to open information. With open access regimes, nobody has the legal right to exclude anyone else from using the resource. The Information Commons A Public Policy Report
  3. “A term used to describe institutions, resources, and practices that promote effective community access to ideas while minimizing the effects of discriminatory barriers on individual usage” (ALA, 2004).

Background: Historically, a “commons” has referred to a physical place that is shared by the community. In the 1980s, political scientists expressed that a successful democracy was dependent on citizens’ free exchange of information (Kranich). After the development of the Internet, Lawrence Lessig and others developed the concept of an Information Commons to describe publicly shared noncommercial information resources (Kranich).

Even before the digital age, libraries have been an example of an Information Commons. Since 2000, however, the idea of the information commons is often associated with the digital exchange of information. The Information Commons is an important resource for the public and creators and demonstrates the public’s need for noncommercial forms of expression (Bollier, 2004). Several organizations including the American Library Association, The Free Expression Policy Project, Public Knowledge, and Duke University Law School's Center for the Public Domain have established projects to more fully develop and establish procedures to create and maintain an Information Commons (Kranich).

Legal Issues: In 1976 and 1988, there were changes in the copyright law that now automatically stipulate that creative works are copyrighted (Creative Commons). Because of this, fewer works could be considered a part of the Information Commons because they are not considered a part of the Public Domain i.e., free to be used by the public. This caused a dilemma. How do you guarantee a work a copyright to increase its commercial value and provide incentive for its creation while providing the community with the free exchange of information in the Information Commons?

One solution has been provided by Creative Commons, a non-profit organization that was founded in 2001. They “believe that many people would not choose this "copyright by default" if they had an easy mechanism for turning their work over to the public...It is Creative Commons' goal to help create such a mechanism” (Creative Commons). Creative Commons provides several licensing options that do not make a copyright owner give up their rights, but allows others to use the work under certain specified conditions.

Current Issues and Developments: A current issue in the creation of an Information Commons is Google Print. Google has started scanning books from universities such as Harvard and Stanford to digitize copywrited and out-of-print works in order to expand its search capabilities. Google advertises that you do a search and it will provide book titles with small portions of the work or the full work if the publisher or author has given permission or the work is not copyrighted (Google Print).

However, this has raised some controversy as to whether Google is infringing on copyrights by even providing a small portion of the work. Some argue that people might be able to access the whole book by searching repeatedly or a small fee should be charged so that revenues are not lost (Mills, 2005). Currently, Google has placed this project on hold and is waiting on the outcome of litigation (Kane, 2005).


ALA’s Information Commons Blog. (January 4, 2004). Retrieved December 4, 2005, from

Bollier, D. (2004). Why We must talk about the Information Commons. At speech during “Envision a New Dialog on Digital Intellectual Property Rights,” at the 96th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries, Seattle, Washington, July 15, 2003. Retrieved from Lexix Nexis Academic on October 24, 2005.

Creative Commons Legal Concepts. (n.d.). Retrieved December 4, 2005 from

Google Print: About. (2005). Retrieved December 4, 2005, from

Kane, M. (2005, August 12). Google Pauses Library Project. Retrieved December 4, 2005 from

Kranich, N. Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law’s Free Expression Policy Project: The emerging Information Commons. (n.d.) Retrieved December 4, 2005, from

Mills, Elinor. (2005, September 21). Authors Guild Sues Google Over Library Project. Retrieved December 4, 2005 from

External Links[edit]

  • Information Commons Directory No longer maintained as of December 10, 2004

--Jcmoats 09:17, 18 Dec 2005 (PST)