Yesterday I came back from a 3-day stay in Sydney. I was up there for the 2009 Unlocking IP conference, the third in a set of three, held at the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre at UNSW. I remember coming across the programme of the 2006 conference at some point and thinking how interesting it looked, so it was wonderful not just to attend but also to present at this year’s! (NB: Kylie Pappalardo has also posted some notes about this conference on her blog.)
Liam and I co-presented Wikimedia in copyright/copyright in Wikimedia, which is something of a grab-bag of topics that we thought might be of interest to legal academics and practitioners. I humbly submit that our experiences of “copyright in practice” and adjudication in the court of XfD-style “consensus” may be of interest to those mainly focused on the theory of how it all works. The feedback we received was very positive and I feel encouraged to expand one of my topics into a psuedo-academic essay.
Video, 25 min, licensed CC-BY-SA
Graham Greenleaf, a co-director of AustLII, talked in the opening sessions on National and International Dimensions of the Public Domain. He raised the idea of creating a “peak body” to represent the public domain/public rights in copyright, perhaps by expanding the Australian Digital Alliance or by creating a new body. It seems a fitting conclusion to the Unlocking IP project — launching ideas for the next phase.
Delia Browne of MCEETYA (a government education body) gave two talks, of which I saw the first: The Open Education Revolution: Sharing Nicely, which was a comprehensive overview of how the movement for open education resources (OERs) has evolved around the world and particularly in Australia.
Anne Fitzgerald also gave multiple talks, the first being Re-use of Government Works. She talked about the notion of OA to PSI (open access to public sector information, i.e. government works) and how it has developed significantly in the last five years, and even more so in the last 12 months. Australia is a member of the OECD, which has made statements of support for OA to PSI (e.g. June 2008’s Seoul Declaration, in which members promised to create policies that “[m]ake public sector information and content, including scientific data, and works of cultural heritage more widely accessible in digital format.” But sadly unlike the EU, OECD promises are not binding.
The Cutler report on the national innovation review released in September 2008 made moderately supportive noises towards this and similar concepts. The DBCDE Future Directions for the Digital Economy consultation (report expected mid-2009) asked questions that are best addressed by a National Information Policy; indeed, this was Recommendation 7.7 in the Cutler report:
Australia should establish a National Information Strategy to optimise the flow of information in the Australian economy. The fundamental aim of a National Information Strategy should be to:
- utilise the principles of targeted transparency and the development of auditable standards to maximise the flow of information in private markets about product quality; and
- maximise the flow of government generated information, research, and content for the benefit of users (including private sector resellers of information).
(My emphasis.) Well, we will see what DBCDE’s report says. There are a couple of good signs in recent times. One is the launch last week of the Government Information Licensing Framework website, which is more targeted at other government departments than the general public. A licensing framework is something that you might use to help you set up all your department’s information to be published under a permissive license by default. GILF was developed in Queensland and is, as their website proudly states, “leading the world in establishing a new approach to public sector information licensing.” Another is the Queensland government’s draft Right to Information Bill, which would complement the Freedom of Information Act. Where FoI is “pull” (you have to request the information to get it), RtI will apparently be “push”. It is not hard to remember criticisms made about FOI over the years, so if a “RtI” approach removes the ability of ministers to bin reports that make them look bad, that will be welcome news for all.
On the second day I enjoyed Roger Clarke on Open Access to Journal Content as a Case Study in Unlocking IP, a kind of “how far have we come?” retrospective. The paper has a lot of very interesting detail and numbers (they haven’t yet been published, but they should be available from the Unlocking IP website). It concludes that although progress has been made in creating the “appropriate legal context”,
…the exploitation of the opportunity has lagged, because of impediments to adoption, especially the lack of any positive incentive to self-deposit, and downright apathy. The outcomes to date are disappointing for proponents of OA and Unlocking IP. Only a small proportion of the literature is readily available, academics continue to be primarily dependent on the formal versions, academics continue to be uninformed and apathetic about self-deposit, and libraries continue to pay inflated prices to enable academics to gain access to the papers that they collectively wrote and that they collectively quality-assured. There are limited signs of the adoption process speeding up sufficiently to deliver significant results. OA and Unlocking IP in the area of journal articles are at serious risk of being still-born.
Hm… what to do? I thought from what I learned at Arthur Sale’s open access presentation at LCA that institutional mandatory self-deposit policies were the answer (ie. the university requires that all academics put a copy of their journal articles into the university’s institutional repository). But according to Roger Clarke that would only increase the percentage of deposited articles to 30-50%. Perhaps the other 50% is the existing, unarchived works? Can academics somehow get extra cred for depositing their back archive?
In the same session, James Dalziel spoke about Successes and Challenges for open IP business models. He went through a detailed “hypothetical” comparison between a “traditional IP” software company and an “open IP” one (ie open source). His conclusion was something like: although open IP businesses can make money, it’s an order of magnitude below the potential of traditional IP companies. Therefore, traditional IP companies cannot adapt to an open IP approach, and all that is left is WAR!
I was one of the commentators on this session and I responded that since our (FLOSS) legal foundation is valid, all we can be attacked with is FUD (negative marketing), and even that doesn’t work forever. And calling it “war” is a strange thing, since it is a one-sided war, as we aren’t aiming to topple traditional IP companies — that will just be a completely unintentional side-effect.
The conference ended with the launch of the Public Rights Licenses Database, which aims to collect all the licenses that grant general users some rights — open source and open content licenses, from the Free Software Foundation to Creative Commons, and every other two-bit license in between. :) The earliest one dates to 1979! It also indexes licenses by country — I was surprised to learn of several Australia-specific licenses I had not heard of before. Equally, if you know of any licenses that should be there but are not, email them and let them know! (feedback at worldlii.org)
(I notice that the WTFPL is not listed, but, uh…maybe there’s a reason for that.)
In summary, Unlocking IP was a fascinating crash course in where Australian copyright, open access and other ‘open’ movements might be going. Thank you to the Cyberspace Law Centre for hosting this event and provoking these conversations.
Well, it’s over a week since I attended the Foundations of Open: Technology and Digital Knowledge local summit. For those outside Australia, in November last year Australia elected a new government after eleven years. One of the new government’s first initiatives was to announce a plan for a Australia 2020 summit. The summit proper is being held next week, with 1,000 attendees taking part. The whole thing is very encouraging of participation, and part of that includes the “local summits” by MPs. Senator Kate Lundy held hers with a focus on open source, open access and related issues. In 12 years, where might progressive and friendly government policy lead us? This summit was about putting heads together and dreaming big, then filling in the steps in between to try and make the ideal a reality.
Appropriately enough, Senator Lundy runs her own website using Joomla, and the summit co-chair Tom Worthington put up all the notes from the day into a Moodle course. (And I noticed while slides and things were being set up that Senator Lundy runs Ubuntu. Mad :D)
Anyway, for some reason I find the video files time out or something and won’t play. You can download them directly instead. The recordings are excellent – close up and very good sound. (The small sized files are quite decent quality, don’t feel obligated to download the large files.)
I particularly recommend
- Professor Lawrence Cram, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of ANU – Launch & keynote (video, 23min) – wide-ranging talk about his experience in the university/research sector and “foundations of openness” (academic freedom, open access, management of university reasearcher IP)
- Jeff Waugh – “Foundations of Open” (video, 43min) – “The Foundations of Open is a model for understanding the different aspects of openness in a digital age including standards, knowledge, governance, source code and the market.” [by the by, the James Burke ‘Connections’ clip he shows can also be found on Youtube]
- Pia Waugh – “Open Source as a public resource” (video, 43min) – “Specific ways we can better explore Open Source opportunities and innovations for business, government, broader social benefit and the Australian economy.”
- Andrew ‘Tridge’ Tridgill – “Open 2020 – Taking Advantage of FOSS” (video, 33min) – Public policy needs to guide business down a path that benefits society. Removing “structural impediments” (DMCA, software patents, trade secrets, “chilling effect” of lawsuits) to adoption of free software.
- Alan Smart, ASIBA – “Spatial potential” (video, 30min) – “Geospatial information needs to be open so that Australian businesses can add value, innovate and commercialise in order to be globally competitive.” (If you ever needed evidence to argue about the benefit to business, government and the public of open access/freely licensed geospatial data – all kinds of map data – then this talk would be a fantastic source.)
The first four are very good speakers, each in different ways. Tridge was very impassioned and articulate. Jeff is has quite a showman style. Pia is straight-up and her talks are information-dense and clearly informed by her experience. The integrity and leadership of all three, from the free software movement, is inspiring. While they know the importance of being able to speak other audiences’ languages (business, government) and how “selling” free software can help it spread, they also know there are certain values that cannot be compromised — and they are up-front about this too.
Professor Cram’s talk is considered and nuanced; he’s clearly aware (in a way that perhaps people from the free software movement tend to underestimate) that there is a cost to freedom (from (7’20’‘):
I think the way that we’re [ANU] thinking about it [university open access policy] is interesting to reflect on. There’s a technology layer that we’ve already got control of: the repositories, and the interfaces that people can access our work through are now available, and in many respects turned on. We’ve got a policy layer that has to do with the management of copyright, the interactions that we have with publishers. […] And then finally there’s the user layers, and they’re really quite interesting.
Just to show the kinds of things that we have to worry about: suppose that we conduct medical research. And our medical researchers publish a paper that’s quite erudite about a treatment for diabetes. And suppose that that, then, is on the web. And it’s uninterpreted. People will access that. The writers of the article never intended it to be addressed by people who worry about diabetes, and it’s not, therefore, interpreted in a way that’s helpful to them. It would be wrong, I think, to withhold the information, but it also has elements of wrongness to not interpret it as well. And the interpretation is something that we don’t think of doing at present. If you publish a medical paper in a medical journal, you’ve got a pretty good idea about most of the audience, and you don’t need to interpret it. So we are thinking about what it would mean to interpret, the portal through which the community accesses our online information.
(Professor Cram’s talk of “interpretation” reminds me of Andrew Keen in The Truth According to Wikipedia, lamenting the loss of “gatekeepers”, editors and publishers who choose what to publish — except Professor Cram can see the potential benefits despite the guaranteed difficulties on the way. It strikes me that Andrew Keen can see no better society than the one we had 10-20 years ago.)
There is also Jessica Coates from Creative Commons Australia (video, 37min), just in case you’ve never heard a Creative Commons spiel :) and Ann Steward from the government Information Management Office (who knew such a thing existed!), (video, 29min) if you want to hear some more perspective from someone actually in the public service (eg. what barriers exist to adoption of FLOSS). (I also found out about this document: Guide to Open Source Software for Australian Government Agencies.)
…FLOSS. I just wrote “free software” and changed it. The phrase reminded me of a “nomenclature problem” that came up from Ann’s talk. Tridge earlier had deliberately used the phrase “free software” (well, I kinda feel everyone who uses it must do so deliberately). Ann, during her talk, said something like “Open, but not necessarily free, software”, then talking about the cost of e.g. training. “Open, but not necessarily free” is a strange thing to people who hear the phrase “(as in freedom)” in between the words “free” and “software”. After her talk, Tridge tried to make clear the distinction, of free-as-in-freedom software, but it didn’t quite make it.
Stallman says, Every time you say “free software” rather than “open source,” you help our campaign. Sadly I think the campaign for keeping alive that distinction is one that does not survive outside the software development community.
Anyway, Foundations of Open is now done, and the presenters’ submissions are now available. Let’s see if this big picture thinking can translate into anything concrete!
As recently announced by Board chair Florence, the Wikimedia Foundation recently won a court case in France which confirmed the belief that they are a “hosting provider” and “can not be held accountable for the content added by contributors to the encyclopedia”. This was naturally a great relief.
Something cool: a translation of the court’s finding is now available on English Wikisource, by the catchy title Order of relief, Mrs M. B., Mr P. T., Mr F. D. vs. Wikimedia Foundation Inc..
In case you know some French, you can even read them side by side (well, more or less).