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Governments are letting in the light

A special report on the 'open society' by The Economist [03mar10]

«These days democratic openness means more than that citizens can vote at regular intervals in free and fair elections. They also expect to have access to government data. ... “Government information is a form of infrastructure, no less important to our modern life than our roads, electrical grid or water systems,” says Carl Malamud, the boss of a group called Public.Resource.Org that puts government data online. ... Providing access to data “creates a culture of accountability”, says Vivek Kundra, the federal government’s CIO. One of the first things he did after taking office was to create an online “dashboard” detailing the government’s own $70 billion technology spending. Now that the information is freely available, Congress and the public can ask questions or offer suggestions. The model will be applied to other areas, perhaps including health-care data, says Mr Kundra—provided that looming privacy issues can be resolved»

These are just a few excerpts from the February 25 printed edition of the UK weekly The Economist focused on managing public information, government transparency and citizen access to public data.

The report covers essentially the US landscape after the Obama election, since "America is in the lead on data access". Here is the story conclusion:

«Moreover, providing information opens up new forms of collaboration between the public and the private sectors. Beth Noveck, one of the Obama administration’s recruits, who is a law professor and author of a book entitled “Wiki Government”, has spearheaded an initiative called peer-to-patent that has opened up some of America’s patent filings for public inspection.

John Stuart Mill in 1861 called for “the widest participation in the details of judicial and administrative business…above all by the utmost possible publicity.” These days, that includes the greatest possible disclosure of data by electronic means.»

Read full report here.

Sprixi helps to find images online...

...that are free and in the public domain for quick use. [28dec09]

Sprixi is a new searchable database that gathers images from quality sites around the web (currently covering Flickr, OpenClipArt, and their own images). Those images are generally released under a Creative Commons license or, even better, are in the public domain. And the website makes it simple to download or link to the image - even generating HTML code for blog posting.

Images are indexed by topics and usefulness, and Sprixi learns and improves its search engine every time someone uses it. Everybody is invited to register and contribute their own images to the database.

"Where Does My Money Go?"

Online tools to analyse and visualise UK public spending. [15dec09]

The Open Knowledge Foundation has created a project enabling everyone to easily understand British government spending. Where Does My Money Go? is a great example of innovation that benefits not only the economy, but also society as a whole - encouraging the next generation of web services that will bridge the gap between 'transparency in principle' and 'accessibility in practice'.

The web application, currently in its alpha release has received media coverage on the BBC, The Guardian, and many other sources - including on BoingBoing, where Cory Doctorow writes:

"I'm loving this: you can click on any of those dots (on the actual web-page) to see what it represents. The slider moves you back and forth year-to-year. It's an amazing way of visualizing public spending."

All material is available under CC 'by' license v3.0. More details are available on the Where Does My Money Go? website.

Harnessing Openness in Higher Education

A new report from CED on improving Research, Teaching and Learning in colleges & universities. [19nov09]

Recently the Committee for Economic Development (CED) released a new report: Harnessing Openness to Improve Research, Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Its core recommendation is that colleges and universities should embrace the concept of increased openness in the use and sharing of information to improve higher education.

The report was produced by CED's Digital Connections Council (DCC), a group of information technology experts that advises CED's business leaders on cutting-edge technologies. They emphasized the use of Open Educational Resources (OER) for "future gains in the efficiency of teaching and learning" and their value as material easy to customize "even for an individual student."

The CED report produced also some main policy recommendations, including (among others): funding research on comparative studies digital material, including OER and facilitate the non-commercial use of materials for educational purposes (for governments); and establish open-source digital repositories and require faculty to provide the institution with non-exclusive license to the product of their research (for universities).

Learn more about the report.

CED is a US-based, non-profit, non-partisan business led public policy organization. Launched in 1942, CED is dedicated to policy research on the major economic and social issues of our time and the implementation of its recommendations by the public and private sectors.

More info on CED:

Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in Canada

A video-lecture by Michael Geist: "Everything You Need To Know About ACTA, But Didn't Know To Ask". [13nov09]

Michael Geist, law professor at the University of Ottawa and long-time copyright reform advocate, continues is battle against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement -- a copyright treaty currently being negotiated in Canada.

This time boingboing shares a "20-minute, must-see lecture on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement -- the secret copyright treaty currently being negotiated, which stands to fatally wound all user-generated content sites from mailing lists to YouTube; which stands to criminalize kids for noncommercial file-sharing; which stands to put your internet connection in jeopardy if anyone in your house is accused of infringement, and much, much more."

Here is the original video by Michael Geist.

Ontology sharing and copyright considerations

Science Commons helps the W3C in making "knowledge sharing more efficient". [3nov09]

OWL 2 – a standard web ontology language – was formally recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) as part of their Semantic Web activity.

From the W3C’s announcement:

“[OWL 2] allows people to capture their knowledge about a particular domain (say, energy or medicine) and then use tools to manage information, search through it, and learn more from it. Furthermore, as an open standard based on Web technology, it lowers the cost of merging knowledge from multiple domains.”

Science Commons’ Alan Ruttenberg has been diligently working with the OWL working group specifying OWL 2 at the W3C to push this recommendation through. The W3C says that the transition to OWL 2 is a reflection of user experience with OWL, and the need to enable seamless integration and scalability.

This resource - “Ontology Copyright Licensing Considerations” - explores when copyright may apply to an ontology as well as a number of other concerns regarding protection and the means to achieve that.

Read more on Science Commons' blog.

The unbearable complexity of U.S. copyright law

How can a layperson figure out the 'finer points' of copyright duration? [10oct09]

In a quite detailed post, Tyler Ochoa explains how and why the estate of James Joyce agreed to pay Stanford Professor Carol Shloss $240,000 for her attorneys fees stemming from a lawsuit over her "fair use" right to quote from Joyce's unpublished letters.

The story underlines the "ridiculously complicated" U.S. law on copyright duration.... and the actual difficulty (impossibility?) to correctly understand and apply the 'finer points' of such law.

Read the full story, also relaunched by EFF's Fred Von Lohmann.

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