M. G. K. Menon
The purpose of this symposium was to discuss the area of public domain and the question of open access to data. There has been a great deal of clarification on a wide range of issues through the discussions that have taken place. For example, many presentations addressed the economic aspects of open access. Open-source software is very important and will be of great value. However, one should not minimize the task involved. It is going to be expensive, complex, and it will take time. It will have particular relevance to developing countries that cannot afford to pay repeatedly for proprietary software, as systems are upgraded and earlier ones are rendered obsolete. The focus on open access, public domain, and information needed for science laid particular emphasis on the needs of developing countries.
Presentations on the legal aspects of open access examined current policies in this area in the United States and in Europe, and also with reference to developing countries. What came out was a scenario that was highly varied, with some countries being more restrictive and others more open.
Apart from a general discussion on these issues a large number of interesting examples and field demonstrations were highlighted, illustrating how initiatives involving the North and the South can overcome problems that lead to the digital divide.
Governments that are the participants in intergovernmental meetings and that therefore help to produce the World Trade Organization, the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and European database directive policies do so on the basis of self-interest. Commercial interests lobby for what they require. Science however is much more diffuse. Science does not lobby per se with governments. The needs of science are, however, something that governments must be made to understand, whether this be in terms of access to data or on a more general basis an ambience of openness, freedom, excitement, transparency, and integrity.
The entire basis for the developments that have enabled today’s information society has come from work in science, whether it was the Internet, the World Wide Web, the developments in computer science, including hardware and software, the mathematical underpinning, solid-state electronics (and more particularly microelectronics), lasers, wireless, space technologies, and much more. This impact of science is somewhat like the large part of an iceberg below the surface of the sea—it has to be conveyed to policy makers and understood by them. Because science does not lobby for its interests, its case often gets left behind or forgotten.
To some extent when we debate such issues at forums such as this symposium, the participants represent a rather coherent, homogeneous community with interests in and an understanding of science. The problems we
encounter are with external driving forces, and they are not usually present. It is very important that we do not just preach to the converted but also look at what we need to do to make the needs of science appreciated by governments, business, industry, and more generally, by society.
The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) presents an opportunity for such outreach. CERN plans to convene a preparatory meeting before the first WSIS to strategize on making the case for science. We need to participate in this and give it our fullest support. We have a good case, but we have to make it.