Today, in the midst of expanding distribution networks for electronic information, “access” is a proliferating idiom. Associated with democratic principles ranging from freedom to human rights, equality, and distributive justice, “access” is nonetheless a complex and underanalyzed concept. In this talk, which is meant to provoke conversation, I seek to open “access” up for analysis rather than accept the concept as natural and positive. Taking the case of mass book digitization, I will examine the practices and politics sheltered under its promise of “access” and then contextualize them within the ongoing shift in libraries from print ownership to digital access. I will end with some speculations about the place of “access” within a copyright regime when the commodity in question is no longer a book but access to that book. If “access” is replacing the copy, how might it be regulated, if at all?
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