Is information free? An evening with World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee

IF not for him, Meld wouldn’t exist. Sir Timothy John “Tim” Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web shares his views on the availability of information with Amy Lau.

Sir Timothy John "Tim" Berners-Lee

Photo: Silvio Tanaka via Flickr

I read about him and referenced his work in a number of my university essays, but I never thought I would cross paths with the inventor of the World Wide Web.

Early last month, I was fortunate enough to attend a free public lecture by Sir Timothy John “Tim” Berners-Lee at the University of Melbourne. Not knowing him personally, I didn’t know what to expect, but was still surprised he spoke so animatedly and passionately about his opinions, a central one being the fight for free and open information.

His focus on the topic didn’t surprise me though, as news of 26 year-old Aaron Swartz taking his own life broke only a few weeks before the lecture. For the uninitiated, Aaron Swartz was a computer programmer charged with computer hacking after he legally downloaded four million research papers from e-journal database JSTOR with the intention of putting them up on free file-sharing websites.

“Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves,” Swartz had said in his Open Guerrilla Manifesto in 2008.

Like Swartz, Sir Berners-Lee believed publicly funded research and scientific data should be readily made available to everyone for free.

As a university student, I had no problem accessing hundreds of e-journals for free through my university. They were extremely informative and useful for my studies. However, I think information, such as research papers, shouldn’t cost the public anything, especially if it’s publicly funded. Is it reasonable for the average person to pay for research he or she had indirectly funded?

On JSTOR, the cost of accessing a single journal article can be as high as AUD 30 and annual subscription fees range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

Some researchers are against the distribution and sharing of information.

“[They] don’t want people to sift through their ideas…reusing their data,” Sir Berners-Lee pointed out candidly at the lecture.

“But that’s the point isn’t it?” he said,

“[That’s how we] improve things and make advances.”

Do you think journal databases should be readily accessible for free? Are you a supporter for free and open information? Share you views with us in the comments section below.

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