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Open Networks and Open Society: The Relationship between Freedom, Law, and Technology

04/26/2005 5:30 6-120
Hal Abelson, PhD '73, Class of 1922 Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, MIT School of Engineering; John Wilbanks, Vice President, Science Commons

Description: Hal Abelson wants to deliver a one-two punch against the privatization of academic discourse. His weapons of choice? New global initiatives based on MIT's own OpenCourseWare (OCW) and DSpace. Abelson owns to a "real anxiety that people are quick to talk about academic exchange under the rubrics of property and ownership," along the lines of the motion picture, recording and publishing industries. He sees a profound threat -- that of eventual monopoly control -- to scholarly publishing. Out of self-protection, Abelson says, universities must pursue initiatives to ensure free and open academic publishing. Two coordinated initiatives would "strengthen the information commons," the body of knowledge on which thinkers continually build and which "forms the progress of science." One, modeled on OCW, would provide "global access to raw material from which the world's great learning institutions create educational experiences for their students." The other, like MIT Libraries' DSpace, would produce an interoperable and virtual collection of research from the world's top institutions. Abelson exhorts universities to pursue their true mission of generating, disseminating and preserving knowledge, and defend against the encroachments of the commercial publishing industry, with its near stranglehold on journals and increasingly on ideas themselves.

John Wilbanks hopes to expand on this vision with Creative Commons, an attempt to permit authors and artists around the world to copyright their material with "some rights reserved." His website provides free tools for licensing music, photos, video or written works, while permitting the dissemination of this work for noncommercial or shared use, for instance. Eventually, Creative Commons may encompass data and datasets, as well as patents and the transfer of biological material.



About the Speaker(s): Harold (Hal) Abelson is Class of 1922 Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and a Fellow of the IEEE. He holds an A.B. degree from Princeton University and a Ph.D. degree in mathematics from MIT. In 1992, Abelson was designated as one of MIT's six inaugural MacVicar Faculty Fellows, in recognition of his significant and sustained contributions to teaching and undergraduate education. Abelson was recipient in 1992 of the Bose Award (MIT's School of Engineering teaching award) and is also the winner of the 1995 Taylor L. Booth Education Award given by IEEE Computer Society, cited for his continued contributions to the pedagogy and teaching of introductory computer science. He is co-director of the MIT-Microsoft Research Alliance in educational technology, and co-head of the MIT Council on Educational Technology. Prior to Creative Commons, John Wilbanks held a Fellowship at the World Wide Web Consortium in Semantic Web for Life Sciences. Previously, he founded the bioinformatics company, Incellico, which built semantic graph networks for use in pharmaceutical discovery. Before founding Incellico, John was the first Assistant Director at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and also spent time in Washington, DC, USA as a legislative aide to U.S. Representative Fortney ("Pete") Stark. John holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Tulane University.

Host(s): Office of the Provost, Program on Human Rights and Justice

Tape #: T19914 and T19915

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

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