Introductory Remarks by Session Chair
Industry New Zealand
This first session will consider the legal, economic, and technological framework for open access and the public domain, with a focus on scientific and digital information. There has been a huge shift in understanding the value of digital data and scientific information. It is now seen as absolutely critical in terms of economic development that there be a renewed focus on the importance of making this type of information and data openly available.
It is worthwhile to reflect on why this matters. The debate for some years has been framed around issues of the digital divide, concerns that if people cannot participate in accessing scientific and technical knowledge then they are severely debilitated in terms of growth, the progress of their community, social cohesion, and inclusiveness.
There is another reason why this is important. Considering the movement from agrarian societies to industrial societies to information societies to knowledge societies, Dr. Herman Hauser of Amadeus Projects at Cambridge University talks about the future as being “wet,” and by “wet” he means biotechnology, genomics, and nanotechnology. As this “wet” future unfolds, the turmoil we have seen in ICT will be eclipsed by the increase in the importance of access to scientific and technical data and information.
Yet another reason why these discussions are so important is the huge shortage of investment in research and development, and in our scientific and education communities. A better understanding of the connections among scientific research, education, and the economic effects of freeing up access to data can help policy makers make informed investment decisions.
One issue in convergence is the difficulty we have had in talking about public domain and open access. We have not had the right language to describe what we mean. When we talk about the need to rebalance some of our existing innovation systems, it is often wrongly interpreted as an attack on intellectual property rights. We are challenged to fundamentally reexamine where the balance lies and look at the issues raised by that examination. This could be facilitated by clarifying certain definitions.
Information in the public domain means there is no exclusive intellectual property (IP) right in the information (e.g., the information is exempt from statutory IP protection, such as certain government information, or the statutory term of protection has lapsed). It also might be protectable subject matter, but by way of contract the information has been designated as unprotected, and it is made available to the public with no reservation of rights.
The other term is open access. When we use that term we assume that there are some proprietary rights attached to the information, but the rights holder allows that information to be made freely and openly available. There are tensions around intellectual property rights. We are starting to understand the public bargains in
copyright law. But we are also developing digital rights management technology that uses contracts and licensing and bypasses the public bargain inherent in public copyright laws.
The speakers in this session will also discuss economic models. There is a lot of discussion about the economic models that underpin open-source technologies; the concept of trust as an intangible, but one that now has value; and the economic pressure being exerted on the research community. Difficulties posed by the scarcity of resources for research institutions force them to commercialize ideas and spin them out in entrepreneurial activities. This leads to a real pressure for universities to distinguish themselves as centers of excellence, and the resulting competition puts enormous pressure on the historic ethos of openness.
Indigenous rights are also an issue area that often is overlooked. Communal rights are not accounted for by private rights or as intellectual property rights. But it is not appropriate simply to allow anyone to use communal and indigenous knowledge without consulting the knowledge holders.
There are also the issues with the technology platforms. While the Internet provides an infrastructure that supports intercommunication, we know that telecommunications companies are in crisis. The rollout of broadband mobile Internet services promises new business and pricing models. There are interoperability developments, including technical standards, metadata, and open networks. The good news is that these new economic models recognize collaborative ventures and the need for business and research institutions to work together to share information.