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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Economist Interview with Brewster Kahle of Internet Archive

The Economist has an online article “The Internet’s Librarian” that is also in the March 5th, 2009 print edition.

…the founder of the Internet Archive explains what has driven him for more than a decade. “We are trying to build Alexandria 2.0,” says Mr Kahle with a wide-eyed, boyish grin. Sure, and plenty of people are trying to abolish hunger, too.

It would be easy to dismiss Mr Kahle as an idealistic fruitcake, but for one thing: he has an impressive record when it comes to setting lofty goals and then lining up the people and technology needed to get the job done. “Brewster is a visionary who looks at things differently,” says Carole Moore, chief librarian at the University of Toronto. “He is able to imagine doing things that everyone else thinks are impossible. But then he does them.”

This is probably my favorite quote:

“Come back when you have a warrant,” reads the floor mat underneath his office recliner. It was a gift from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (an activist group on whose board Mr Kahle sits) after Mr Kahle refused to hand over information about one of the Internet Archive’s users to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2007.

I only wish more interviews with Brewster would discuss the plethora of government documents that are in Internet Archive. It’s a valuable resource and it keeps growing!

Free E-Book on Copyright

Cory Doctorow, co-editor at boingboing.net, Fellow for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and contributor to Wired, Popular Science, the New York Times, etc., has published a book called Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future and it’s available for download on his website…for free! Cory is an advocate of the Creative Commons organization, using some of their licenses for his own books.

Here is an excerpt:

Back in 1985, the Senate was ready to clobber the music industry for exposing America’s impressionable youngsters to sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. Today, the Attorney General is proposing to give the RIAA legal tools to attack people who attempt infringement.

Through most of America’s history, the U.S. government has been at odds with the entertainment giants, treating them as purveyors of filth. But not anymore: today, the U.S. Trade Rep is using America’s political clout to force Russia to institute police inspections of its CD presses. (Savor the irony: post-Soviet Russia forgoes its hard-won freedom of the press to protect Disney and Universal!)

How did entertainment go from trenchcoat pervert to top trade priority? I blame the “Information Economy.”

No one really knows what “Information Economy” means, but by the early ’90s, we knew it was coming…

Gaiman’s ebook is “unbelievably painful to use”

And now a cautionary tale: Neil Gaiman — who wrote the incredible Sandman graphic novel series — and his publisher, HarperCollins, has put up his novel, “American Gods” online for free reading from the HarperCollins Web site.

Cool, right? Well not so fast. As Cory over at boingboing points out, the book is only viewable using HarperCollins’ BrowseInside system which loads pictures of the pages from the printed book, one page at a time, with no facility for offline reading.

And this, dear reader, is the cautionary tale. Online content is *great* for access; but it *needs* to be open and usable, not locked up within a proprietary system with poor quality scans.

The whole thing runs incredibly slowly and is unbelievably painful to use. I think we can be pretty sure that no one will read this version instead of buying the printed book — but that’s only because practically no one is going to read this version, period.

The fact is that the full text of American Gods has been online for years, and can be located with a single Google query. I managed to download the entire text of the book in less time than it took me to get the Harper Collins edition to load the first page of Chapter One (literally!). The “security” that Harper Collins has bought with its clunky, kudgey experiment is nonexistent: pirates will just go get the pirate edition.

Unfortunately, the “security” has also undermined the experiment’s value as a tool for getting better intelligence about the market. This isn’t going to cost Neil any sales, but it’s also not going to buy him any. We take our books home and read them in a thousand ways, in whatever posture, room, and conditions we care to. No one chains our books to our desks and shows us a single page at a time. This experiment simulates a situation that’s completely divorced from the reality of reading for pleasure. As an experiment, this will prove nothing about ebooks either way.