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Full report on London Workshop (26-27 March 09)

The 5th Communia workshop started with two introductory presentations by Ian Angell and Tom Watson.

Ian Angell, Professor at the London School of Economics, gave a few lively examples on difficulties and costs involved with ‘rights clearance’ as a lecturer. While the scope of exceptions is often unclear, it is hard to understand what is a substantial use. If access is impossible, innovation will suffer and it will also create an exodus to alternative markets, like all forms of prohibition.

According to Tom Watson (UK Minister for Digital Engagement and Civil Service Issues), web-science has to be invented as a discipline, as computer science was invented to answer to a new technology which has an impact for society and education. His department is asking for a massive cultural change, based on 4 kinds of openness: feedback, conversation, information, innovation. He wants a decent easy-to-use licensing for government information to encourage the public to use and reuse, material should be free unless there is a reason to charge for it, and control should be available against abusive use. [21apr09]

Knowledge Ecology International's director James Love's talk was structured around a set of recommendations on the role of governments and the development of databases, towards more transparency, public participation and prominence of user-generated data elements.

For Rufus Pollock (University of Cambridge & Open Knowledge Foundation), today’s key public goods are information, code, content, data, and someone should be in charge of regulating their access and pricing.

Tom Steinberg introduced the Open Street Map project ( an open source rival to the British post codes that reconstitutes the Post Office database without infringing on their copyright.

Michael Nicholson from PSI Alliance and APPSI, explained the possibility of separating upstream raw data from downstream value added commercial activities. Along with the geographic dataset, also transportation, employment data and health and pharmaceutical price trends could made into the public domain in order to enable researchers to evaluate the impact of the related public policies. There seems to be a consensus that all come back to geography as well, which is a core data element.

Luis Ferrao presented the EC work related to PSI (public sector information), focused on the need to support the development of new added-value services and to make sure that public data can be combined in the most diverse ways. He underlines the need for change, against unfair competition practices and the lack of transparency. He pointed to two important papers: the June 2006 Helm and Zenc MEPSIR study, measuring European PSI information resources, and the December 2008 MICUS study, showing that reused increased, especially in geographic and legal domains, with improvements on charging and delivery times.

For Brian Fitzgerald, Professor at the Queensland University of Technology (Australia), any policy implementation should take legal and technology issues into account, while focusing on access rather than ownership. His team has been working to have substantial government information released under CC licenses.

Mireille van Eechoud (Institute for Information Law, University of Amsterdam) analyzed the PSI directive stressing that only transparency, equal access, non-discriminatory and non-exclusive basis would contribute to remove barriers. There is still a lot of leeway to get exclusive deals and discriminate until individual licensing; and cost calculation must be clear. The directive doesn't actually grant access, it is up to Member States to achieve that goal, so the question could be whether the Directive should be made a stronger instrument now that it's being reviewed.

Naomi Korn (JISC) addressed orphan works research, with a survey on the UK public sector, museums and user-generated content. Works whose holders cannot be traced or are unknown represent a major disruption across public sector.

Pierre-Guillaume Wielezynski said that the World Food Bank has a lot of data, this research heavy institution has economists working on yearly reports with massive dataset, they launch the report and then the interest dies.

Simon Field (Office for National Statistics) says that 5,000-10,000 datasets are available freely in the UK. Given the wealth of publicly-available information, he is disappointed by the formats available, there is a need for a better way to represent data, while information sources should be compatible in order to be married without mixing incompatible data.

Brian Hoadley presented innovate government efforts to encourage direct discussion with developers community, share prototypes and surface the location of publicly available non-personal public sector data sources.

Ton Zijlstra (and James Burke), involved on open government data with the Dutch Minister of interior, are doing experiments to show people what they can do with data which is already out there, to help to think about new uses and ask the right questions about how to use data.

Simon Grice from, talked about a new law being introduced in the UK to give local people a voice in the democratic process. He claimed that if most citizens don't know who is their local MP, while information about the locality builds knowledge which leads to empowered citizens, allowing balanced discussion with local officials and better communities.

The closing session of the first day was dedicated to discussing the wording of a statement proposed by the organizers: "Public sector content and data must be made freely and openly available to all without delay for use and re-use."

The second day started with a keynote by Richard Owens presenting WIPO recent developments and future plans. With the Development Agenda, 45 recommendations are now part of the WIPO programme, some addressing the public domain, development, access to knowledge and the digital divide. In 2009 a study on copyright and related rights and the public domain was launched; it will propose recommendations for future work after a comparison of national legislations defining the public domain and a survey of technical and legal tools facilitating access, use, identification and location of public domain material. Also in the pipeline is a survey of voluntary registration systems and orphan works for all countries, to identify procedures to recognize works in the public domain. A survey of private copyright documentation systems, databases and practices should also be started (collective management, private registries, Google Book database, etc.).

Ben White (British Library) expressed concern for the lack of space where anyone can access digital information for free: what are the guarantees that information stays in the public domain? Copyright law is being replaced by contract law, and the British Library surveyed 100 of their contracts on electronic content, most are silent on interlibrary loan, visually impaired, few address exceptions and limitations, some include provisions stating that the library may not copy anything and should destroy all licensed material at the termination of contract. Mass digitisation is hampered by rights clearance, libraries require legal certainty through legislation and an orphan works political agenda.

Nadia Arbach (Victoria and Albert Museum) presented “Wikipedia loves art” project, a treasure hunt started by the Brooklyn Museum and joined by 14 other museums. People are taking pictures of objects created before 1923 and upload them under a Creative Commons Attribution license on Flickr with the appropriate tags and the museum staff reviewing the specific data.

Tom Moritz (Internet Archive) said that many datasets, to be fully useful, need to be longitudinal and contextualized, access per se does not equal fitness for use. There is a problem of interpretation of data and metadata. Private companies have lots of data which are needed for good public policy. Many data uses are unanticipated, and the Internet Archive believes mass digitization should be part of any economic stimulus effort.

Edward Betts (Open Library) presented the problems of book scanning in libraries. A scan on demand service sent to Boston Library takes 7 days, then the work is available for everyone. They were expecting to rely on ISBN, but ISBN doesn't apply to books before 1970. They also face problems because of the different ways to handle composite names, kings and popes, or chinese names in library records, and because of the high number of editions, while they want to know the date of first publication to determine copyright.

Frances Pinter illustrated an experiment of Bloomsbury Academic Publications, an open content model under CC Non Commercial licenses. Existing online models charge for premium content, what about inverting the model: propose free premium content and charge for services such as printing? The problem in academic publishing and scholarly publication is the funding source: funding goes to the university for research and to the library to get books. The publisher organizes all the functions in a long, expensive and inefficient way. What would happen with a different organization, if the publisher would just be a service arm, and funding could drop into research and publishers and libraries?
Paul Gerhardt (Archives for Creativity) explains that there is a lack of transparency in how the public can be represented in the future. Open University and the BBC Creative Archive have been pioneers, but now, how would we reinvent an open university system with regards to the use of film? It matters to think the link between broadcasting and education.

Mathias Schindler (Wikimedia Germany) presents a project between Wikimedia Commons and the Bundesarchiv image collection, which owns 10M images most not digitalised. It was possible to look at thumbnails but everything else was to be paid for, so the negotiations with Wikimedia Commons have been to ask them to provide images under a CC Attribution Share Alike license to illustrate articles, and Wikipedia is helping them to match data records.

Hilary Roberts (Imperial War Museum) presented the Flickr Armistice Day Project, offering high quality watermarked photos for free. An issue for the Flickr project acceptance by the museum is that their budget covers only 50% of the costs. As photos of conflicts can be distressing for families, there is a debate not only about copyright, but also about content nature, there is not a one size fits all solution.

David Bollier provided also a summary of the two-day workshop on the website, under the title: "Unleashing Public Sector Information - The knotty challenges of putting our civic and cultural patrimony online”.

The workshop papers and presentation are available here.

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