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COMMUNIA conference 2008 Report

Photo by JC De Martin, under Creative Commons license Held at the University of Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium, under the perfect organization of a local team coordinated by Tom Dedeurwaerdere (Louvain University) and María José Iglesias (Namur University), the First COMMUNIA Conference attracted almost 100 attendees from all over Europe and even someone from the United States and Brazil. Here is a detailed report of the two-day event. [08/01/2008]

Paul David (Stanford University) gave the first keynote speech, an engaging overview of the so-called ‘Anti-commons problems’, and how to solve them. “Today Intellectual Property (IP) constraints act as a major barrier to innovation, growth and collaboration – the essential characteristics of scientific and technical research particularly in our digital age”, explained Mr. David. “And the trend toward over-patenting and the distribution of private ownership monopoly pose a real threat to R&D for both the academic field and the marketplace”. It is becoming virtually impossible, for example, to develop federated databases or collaborative research project due to many patents covering small pieces of data, a variety of licensing charges and ‘multiple marginalization’ effects.

“While the private intermediaries will not work, becoming actually an abuse toward society at large, it is clear that we need bottom-up solutions and a less radical approach”, insisted Mr. David. Those solutions include (but are not limited to) a widespread use of open access publishing and the creation of ‘pools or ‘clubs’ of scientific information commons. Both in the OECD countries and in the US, the academic community should lead in setting out contractual agreements for sharing IP rights and, more importantly, to implement specific institutional arrangements for creating such worldwide ‘pools’ of research commons.

The following discussion addressed, among other topics, how to ease the licensing process in the current academic scene, which carries also an overburden by supporting a Soviet-like system of patenting frenzy. Another practical solution to this approach could be, for instance, the activation of several consortia of universities interested in the same projects.

Mark Isherwood (Rightscom Limited) introduced the project called Economic and Social Impact of Public Domain in the Information Society, supported by the EC and ending in April 2009. Aimed at “evaluating the social and economic value of Public Domain works for the next 10-20 years”, the project is currently gathering data from a variety of public sources and also through a questionnaire for several EU institutions. Here are some of the questions addressed: How authors make creations available? What kind and how are those works actually re-used by organizations?

Mr. Isherwood underlined methodology and requirements of this early stage of data collection, thus engaging in a lively discussion with the audience. The Q&A session tried to clarify some crucial issues facing the project: the distinction between digital and ‘traditional’ works; how to triangulate data and validation; the interpretation of figures collected. While is too early to draw any useful conclusion, this project – part of the Public Sector Information Directive – will undoubtedly stress the need for a voluntary sharing and the great social value of Public Domain within EU countries.

The third keynote was an attempt to assess the state-of-the-art of creative and scientific commons. Building on the previous presentation by Paul David, Bronwyn Hall (Maastricht University) addressed first a series of specific questions: How can we define scientific commons ‘pools’? What is the goal for such inquiry? What are the cost of this assessment and who bears it? What types of licenses are commonly chosen? Even with some differences and new methodologies for open access strategies, “is the university that retains the final quality control and peer-reviewing acts also a great community-building tool”.

Once again, the attendees provided great feedback, particularly about measurement of citations, archiving procedures and mechanisms for data provision. Most importantly, the audience agreed on the great need for developing effective tools to increase both research productivity and knowledge diffusion – through open access and public-oriented policies.

The last morning session included a series of short presentations on special projects on digital libraries and scientific information development in Poland, Spain and Belgium – followed by a spirited lunch break based a variety of delicious sandwiches.

The afternoon plenary session provided first an overview of the dynamics involved in ‘IP regimes’ building. Addressing the issues of centralization vs. decentralization and private vs. public, Eric Brousseau (Paris University) offered a varied comparison of such regimes at the institutional level – including those embracing open source and Creative Commons strategies.

Gerald Splinder (Gottingen University) depicted a controversy picture of current liability and copyright issues related to digitalized works distribution. “The pending injunction against Google for freely re-distributing headlines from Belgian and French newspapers, along with similar EU cases limiting file-sharing activities, seem to refuse the ‘fair use’ doctrine often applied in the US.” Several attendees criticized such framework, highlighting the legal use of file-sharing technology and the inter-operability digital libraries throughout Europe.

Melanie Dulong de Rosnay (Cersa) offered an view of Creative Commons licenses as a “good cultural norm in the global context, a synthesis of a law born in the US but successfully ported to EU jurisdiction”. Finally, Severine Dusollier (Namur University) addressed the issue of private ordering tools that are actually “expanding public access and sharing of artistic works and scientific publications.”

Finally, two parallel sessions offered some dynamic presentations on public sector practices and creative works licensing related to both Europe and the US, underlining the economic and social benefits of building an overall “digital commons” for the society at large.
The evening ended with a cheerful cocktail party and a wonderful dinner, a necessary follow-up to share ideas and experiences (and have some fun).

The plenary sessions of the following morning focused on different aspects of the current EU landscape: how to effectively balance costs and benefits of digital libraries within the i2010 strategy (Marco Ricolfi, Turin University); the need for an open framework to push the digitalization of European cultural heritage (Lucie Guibalt, Amsterdam University); development and application of the European Union Public License for knowledge sharing (Karel De Vriend, IDABC). Once again, each presentation was followed by an animated exchange of comments and ideas with the audience, thus providing further “food for thought”.

Then Rishab Ghosh (UNU-Merit) outlined several instances of successful FLOSS application in the public sector, also emphasizing the need to embrace open standards well beyond the research community worldwide. “FLOSS is not only cheap and easy to use, but it also offer a collaborative base necessary for large scale projects and global policies that could actually do good to the public in general”. On a similar note, the following panel focused on scientific information in the digital age, covering some on-going projects of data and knowledge sharing in the EU and (most importantly) addressing how to fill the digital divide still common today within many branches of today’s scientific community – a space where COMMUNIA is finding an active role, as underlined by its coordinator Juan Carlos De Martin.

In the closing session, Tom Dedeurwaerdere (Louvain University) provided a short synthesis of the conference main themes while Ed Steinmueller (Sussex University) relaunched the overall mission of the COMMUNIA Network in expanding the debate and becoming a more inclusive tool. For the next future, a crucial goal is to “develop practices to effectively reach both individual work creators and the public at large” in understanding and sharing the “true value of public domain and open licensing.”

Such conclusion was reinforced through a lively exchange with the audience, thus leading to more discussion about public fora, working groups and other practical tools to be implemented soon. This engaging debate was actually experienced throughout the two-day event - something that will surely flourish again at the next live event: the 3rd COMMUNIA Workshop (Marking the public domain: relinquishment & certification), planned in Amsterdam for 20-21 October 2008.

Here is a set of photos (by J.C. De Martin), while the conference presentations and material can be downloaded here.

(Report by Bernardo Parrella)

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Presentations, papers and other material related to COMMUNIA events are available in the download page

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