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After ACTA – open public resources

Published on July 10, 2012 by: in: Culture

Another important discussion, which stems indirectly from the issues behind the dispute about ACTA, can soon heat the heads of the Internet users and, above all, science and culture creators in Poland. I think here about the idea propagated by the circle closely connected with the Ministry of Digitalization, by Digital Centre among others, which can mean a revolution in functioning of the whole sector of culture and science in Poland. This is an idea of the open public resources.

What are the open public resources?

The authors of the idea of the open resources are motivated by the desire to extend an access to the data, information, knowledge, and cultural resources which are financed or co-financed by the state budget, through making them available for free on the Internet. This openness would ensure maximizing the benefits of the use of these resources. Originators of this initiative reckoned that this will reduce the level of social inequalities which stem from different financial capacities and cultural background of the citizens. It’s easy to notice that an access to knowledge is the key to the higher level of education, economic and cultural development, as well as to widely understood innovation. The open resources would then result in creating by the recipients different kinds of added value through the use of universal access to the knowledge. It would result in the development of science and services provided on the base of these resources. However, it is worth asking what kind of results can bring seemingly very noble enterprise. The open resources can be treated as a huge opportunity for development, but one should also consider what kind of dangers and results they can bring about.

picture: John Martinez Pavliga

Controversies

The key question is what we really mean by that ‘public resources’ which would be open? There are opinions which assume that these resources should be treated very widely and that they should include not only all sorts of decisions and pieces of information about the activity of offices, Public Information Bulletin (so called Open Government), but also stores of knowledge, which include data, reports, case studies, statistics, scientific research results, film and TV productions, books, textbooks, etc. which were financed from the public resources. The part of assumptions which will demand from offices to be more open, to disclose information about their work, and to public information to digital age.

Open Government offers effective tools for cooperation between the governing and the citizens, and extorts bigger transparency of the governing’ actions, which did not exist before. We should  not, however, mix the idea of Open Government with criminal actions of subjects such as Wikileaks. Some of the areas of acting of the state, which concern safety or terrorist threat, must remain secret in the name of common good. However, some serious doubts are risen by the consequences of using the broad definition of the open public resources. It should be pointed out that the supporters of the idea of the open public resources do not realize about the risks which may be a consequence of using a definition in a broad and radically leftist way, that is a full availability of resources without an influence of the creators on this process. What consequences the idea of open public resources can carry?

The research activity of university colleges. If universities are required to publish on the Internet their patents and technical solutions, the research on which was financed from the public resources, it will bear negative consequences for the condition of universities. This solution can also trigger stealing of Polish technical thought by other countries or subjects. The introduction of even slightest changes to the technical idea can be a basis for potential proving before court the originality of the copied idea.

What is more, Polish courts are so tardy that before they even make a ruling on the case, someone can develop a well-working business on the basis of copied case studies financed from the public resources without any influence or profit on the part of the creator. Of course, ex post, one can try to claim damages, but the question is how often the scientists will have strength and determination to prove their rights before court and fight let’s say a Chinese for years in a court?

This solution can harm public universities which won’t have an opportunity to gain resources for further activity from selling their patents and products of intellectual work. As a result we will limit the ways in which universities could be financed from sources other than public financing and students’ payments.

Non-commercial activity of cultural magazines. The idea of open public resources gives rise to a question about the interpretation of activity of subjects which produce intellectual goods partly financed from public resources. We ask about the situation in which, for example, a magazine is in 30% financed from public resources. Will this magazine be obliged to publish on a webpage all its content free of charge, which could have a negative impact on sales results? Will this solution, paradoxically, lead to the downfall of non-commercial magazines which hardly make their budget from different sources, and force them to switch to the commercial activity?

The activity of film producers. Will film productions co-founded by the National Film Institute have to be made available for free on the Internet? If so, how soon after the premiere? Are the advocates of open resources aware of the financial consequences for the film industry in Poland if this obligation is immediate? Unfortunately, almost all film productions in Poland are co-financed by the state. If we prohibit co-financing (the rule: either the state or the tickets), even less movies will be created than before.

Open public resources can undermine the whole system of financing culture and science in Poland. If we assume that the state should support such activity with taxpayers’ money, then the state should do it in the most rational way, that is enable activities, co-finance ambitious undertakings, and motivate cultural institutions to raise other resources. The introduction of the rule of the open public resources will cause that, on one hand many cultural institutions, which can‘t sell their products and works, will be condemned to financing by the state in 100%. On the other hand, it is obvious that the state won’t be able to cope with such financial burden. As a result, less non-commercial works of culture will be created.

Numerous cultural institutions will either collapse or turn to commercial activity. Is this a good effect? I think it’s not. High culture creates new ideas, inspires minds, spurs into change of reality. Without high culture the society doesn’t develop because it doesn’t have appropriate stimuli to create elites who could lead this society. Unfortunately state patronage as a form of co-financing high culture is still needed as for today.

My anxiety is also provoked by the ideological grounds behind the realization of the whole project. In discussions it is often underlined that there is a need to treat culture and science resources co-created or co-financed by the state as common good. The experiences from the epoch before 1989 proved painfully that the institutions which operated on the basis of so called common good, without the ownership rights clearly stated, ended up with ineffective managing and using of resources. I’m afraid that de facto whole new type of law introduced by this act – the right to knowledge, based on the presumption of unconditional and free of charge information, resources, and other data and contents, which are public or financed from public sources, will result in consequences different from intended, as well as in creating non-commercial goods of culture and science of poorer quality (and to a lesser extent).

So the question arises if the idea of common good that is used in this case won’t bring in effect weaker universities and technical universities, weaker institutions of culture. Won’t a simple mechanism of the lack of additional, market stimuli which give motivation to work or opportunity to maintain the business work here? Additionally, not everything that is produced thanks to the public money should be available for free. If state money is used to built a stadium, does it mean that the viewers should go there for free? It’s just a misunderstanding. We can’t treat a sector which produces intellectual goods as something that the rules under which other fields of economics work don’t apply to.

Creators and recipients.

Both opponents of ACTA and supporters of open public resources (very often the same people) forget about the fact that economic development is possible only if the system provides benefits for both users/clients and creators/producers. There is no way to permanently forget about the interest of the latter, and take away from them the ability to decide about their creations. We will just turn the sector which creates intellectual goods will into voluntary and unprofessional. It will be shrinking. I’m highly irritated by the fact that the institutions which deal with this subject examine only one group of people who are interested, namely the users of culture. For example the latest report of the Digital Centre ‘Obiegi Kultury’ concerns only the interests of the users. Professional creators do not exist for them.

I’m afraid that such research is used only to confirm thesis which was established earlier. Meanwhile reliable, exhaustive research is highly needed to really examine the effects of introduction of such deep changes for all interested sides. What is more, the research on benefits of open public resources or of abolition of ownership rights on the Internet for users omit an important fact, about which Professor Cellary wrote in his article “ Youth in the trap of the Internet” for ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’.

The users indirectly shot themselves in foot by elimination of the intellectual property law from the cyberspace through fighting for the open public resources. Hundreds of thousands of young people who graduated from humane studies can create basically only intellectual goods. It’s a group which simultaneously has the biggest problems on the job market and paradoxically fights against the ownership rights (the protests against ACTA). These people condemn themselves to inability to earn, or to work in professions with low prestige or unemployment by their want for abolition of ownership rights and for open public resources. The European Commission is right to write that intellectual property law is like an oil for Europe. And we are a part of Europe in every dimension.

Translation: Magda Goździk

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About Błażej Lenkowski

Graduate of International Relations at The Faculty of International and Political Science Studies of the University of Lodz; president of Industrial Foundation the publisher of Liberte!; entrepreneur.

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