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Universities, the Internet, and the Intellectual Commons

Professor Hal Abelson*

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Universities have a mission to create, preserve, and disseminate knowledge. In addressing that mission, we should take care to preserve and strengthen the intellectual commons -- the shared wellspring of ideas and innovation from which all may freely draw.

Today, both the intellectual commons and the university communities that rely upon it are confronting stresses from both within and outside the university: squabbles over who owns academic work, technologies that impede the dissemination of knowledge, and the impact of increasingly stringent and overreaching intellectual property laws.

This talk describes initiatives aimed at bolstering the intellectual commons, both at MIT and elsewhere. These include MIT OpenCourseWare, an effort to publish the materials of all MIT courses for free use worldwide, the DSpace Federation for institutional research publication archives, and the Creative Commons project to promote sharing on the Internet.

* Hal Abelson is Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He is winner of several teaching awards, including the IEEE's Booth Education Award, cited for his contributions to the teaching of undergraduate computer science.

Abelson's research at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory focuses on "amorphous computing," an effort to create programming technologies that can harness the power of the new computing substrates emerging from advances in microfabrication and molecular biology. He is also engaged in the interaction of law, policy, and technology as they relate to societal tensions sparked by the growth of the Internet, and he is active in projects at MIT and elsewhere to help bolster our intellectual commons.

Abelson is a founding director of the Free Software Foundation and a founding director of Creative Commons. He also serves as consultant to Hewlett-Packard Laboratories. At MIT, Abelson is co-director of the MIT-Microsoft Research Alliance in educational technology and co-head of MIT's Council on Educational Technology.

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