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The Information Commons
A Public Policy Report

By Nancy Kranich
Senior Research Fellow, 2003-04
Free Expression Policy Project

For democracy to flourish, citizens need free and open access to ideas. In today's digital age, this means access to information and ideas online.

In the face of dramatic consolidation in the media industry and new laws that increase its control over intellectual products, the emerging concept of the information commons offers new ways for producing and sharing information, creative works, and democratic discussion.

The fifth in FEPP's series of detailed policy reports, The Information Commons is the first comprehensive, easy-to-read summary of a new movement that offers exciting alternatives to today's increasing restrictions on access to information, scholarly research, and other resources so necessary for democracy.

Authored by former American Library Association President Nancy Kranich, the report gives an overview of the problem of enclosure, explains how theories of the commons have been adapted to the information age, and describes dozens of flourishing information communities, ranging from Linux designers to the Open Video Project, from a knitting commons to the OYEZ Supreme Court Multimedia Archives.

Here are just three examples from the dozens in the report:

Project Gutenberg Distributed Proofreaders, which speeds up e-book creation by enabling many proofreaders to work on a book simultaneously. Wired magazine calls the process "as broadly effective - and, yes, as revolutionary - a means of production as the assembly line was a century ago."

DSpace, "a groundbreaking digital library system to capture, store, index, preserve, and redistribute the intellectual output" of a major university. DSpace provides articles, data sets, images, and audio and video by MIT professors as well as an open source software platform that enables other universities to adopt the open access model.

Project Vote Smart, a citizens' organization that provides unbiased, nonpartisan, and comprehensive voter information, including profiles of elected officials and candidates and status reports on major legislation.

Read The Information Commons: A Public Policy Report online.
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The Free Expression Policy Project began in 2000 as a project of the National Coalition Against Censorship, to provide empirical research and policy development on tough censorship issues and seek free speech-friendly solutions to the concerns that drive censorship campaigns. In 2004-2007, it was part of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. Past funders have included the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Open Society Institute, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

All material on this site is covered by a Creative Commons "Attribution - No Derivs - NonCommercial" license. (See You may copy it in its entirely as long as you credit the Free Expression Policy Project and provide a link to the Project's Web site. You may not edit or revise it, or copy portions, without permission (except, of course, for fair use). Please let us know if you reprint!