As Lawrence Lessig has pointed out in his book, CODE and Other Laws of Cyberspace, a convergence of law and technology in the United States, and in many other countries, has caused a shift in the balance of rights between copyright holders and users of copyrighted materials. This convergence has been exacerbated by the unprecedented concentration of media ownership in both scholarly and popular media channels of information dissemination.

Traditional user rights under copyright law such as Fair Use and First Sale are becoming increasingly irrelevant as technological licensing restrictions limit what uses libraries and end-users can make of copyrighted material. The recent extension of the term of copyright in the United States ensures that copyrighted works created after 1923 will not enter the public domain until 2017, at the earliest. And the Digital Millennium Copyright Act puts the full force of criminal law behind any attempts to override technological protections, even for traditional Fair Use purposes.

Yet while technology is creating new ways to limit access to information, technology is also enabling the creation of alternatives to restrictive copyright and licensing terms. Efforts are underway to create or broaden the intellectual commons in many areas of the arts, science, and literature, including in the very important area of scholarly publishing.

For the purposes of the conference, “intellectual commons” means a “space” in which anyone may use information without asking permission, either because no permission is necessary (e.g., in the case of material in the public domain); or because permission has already been given for certain uses through the grant of an “open access” license such as those offered by the Creative Commons project (www.creativecommons.org).

These initiatives are in their formative stages, and need much study and discussion to become a well understood and used part of the creative and scholarly landscape. We hope this conference will make a contribution to both wider understanding and to wider use of the commons approach to information storage and sharing.

The conference should be of interest to scholars, librarians, teachers, authors, artists, entrepreneurs, non-profit agencies and others who produce and/or use information.