Jacob Grier points out the launch of Britannica Webshare, a service that will allow bloggers to access the Encyclopedia Britannica for free, and even to provide links that will allow readers to read individual articles — but not the whole encyclopedia — for free. This is a fine step, as far as it goes. But it’s a comically small step given the challenges Britannica is facing. The site apparently still won’t be available to non-bloggers, and presumably that means it also won’t be available on search engines. And that means they’re throwing away a huge chunk of their potential audience. But the more fundamental problem is that Wikipedia is already a much better encyclopedia, and it continues to improve rapidly. Wikipedia is roughly as accurate and it’s an order of magnitude timelier and more comprehensive. I wouldn’t use Britannica much if it were freely available; I’m certainly not going to waste time applying to be a part of its “Webshare” program.
Matthew Yglesias points to a paper by John Quiggin (of Crooked Timber fame) and Dan Hunter that looks at the growing importance of non-financial incentives for the production of information goods. They point out that efforts like Wikipedia, free software, and the blogosphere are organized in a way that’s fundamentally different from traditional for-profit enterprises. Many contributors participate for reasons other than financial gain, and the overall project doesn’t have a centralized decision-maker the way Microsoft and the Encyclopedia Britannica do. The authors advocate the reform of legal institutions, such as overly restrictive copyright laws, that implicitly assume that creative works are always produced for financial gain.
…The lesson here is that however brilliant the innovation, it needs to be appropriate to the context and the culture. It needs to fit in and not be imposed. And it needs coalitions, teams, to support it. In fact, in the case of education, which is extremely politically sensitive in every country, OLPC should have developed both the design of the computer and the pedagogy with the Indian and Chinese teachers and administrators, not for them.
While IP may not stimulate true innovation and creativity, Hayek suggests that copyright might stimulate something more pernicious: the intellectual class.
Industries that have been facing competition the longest are making the most serious changes.