In the 3rd Century B.C., much of the world’s knowledge was lost when the ancient library at Alexandria was almost entirely burned to the ground. Some experts say that civilization lost as much as a thousand years worth of potential advances due to this unfortunate event. Could something similar happen in today’s digital world? We must all watch out for three potential threats to our continued ability to easily and freely exchange ideas on the Internet and devise ways to address them in a balanced, effective manner.

Threat: Digital rights management.

Alternative: Exchange commercial and freely available content in open formats like HTML and MP3, with payment going to rightful owners in an organized way. Additional protection may be provided through watermarking or other techniques that allow the content’s format to remain open to all. Good examples are Bookshare and Podsafe Music Network.

Threat: Inaccessibility.

Alternative: We must insure that all information and the technology to create and use it is available to all regardless of disability through inclusive design and development of products and services. Knowledge must never be restricted due to a censory impairment such as blindness or deafness.

Threat: Control of the Internet by government and large corporations.

Alternative: Government should take care to protect children and our homeland without needlessly abridging our freedoms in the process. Businesses such as the telcos should earn money through innovation and charging customers reasonable rates for Internet access. The open, cooperative peering arrangements and overall design of the Internet should be retained at all costs.

We must also take care that the rush to encode all knowledge in electronic formats does not serve to erase our very historical record in the process.

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