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Taking “utmost transparency” to the next level – at4am for all!

Erik Josefsson - June 27, 2012 in Free Culture, Legal, Open Government Data, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data

What? When?? Where??? How?!?! were the questions that got me started some 10 years ago now, on my free software journey that’s taken me to the heart of the European Parliament. As a young Swedish musician, politically innocent and ignorant as the next, I got worked up together with a bunch of newborn stallmanites unleashing ourselves on the internet determined to kill the software patents directive. There was a lot of code. I remember Xavi rewrote the EU’s co-decision procedure algorithm in java to be able to understand it, and that our content management system said ‘Cannot parse this Directive’ instead of returning 404. The tracking of MEPs was managed by Knecht, an email driven content management program written in lisp (insert awe comment here), and I cannot remember the number of different perl scripts that were playing around with voting results. It all ended happily (we won), and I still say “Can I have a B-item please!” whenever I get to go for drink with Miernik or Jonas.

You might think things would be different when you’re on the inside. I have been working in the European Parliament since the last elections, but it turns out at least three of the questions are still the same – What? When?? Where??? One administrative response from the institution is to serve the MEPs and their staff with iPads and intranet pages. Users of iPads and intranet are happy. But I am not. I have decided with a bunch of old stubborn stallmanites to try to use free software in the European Parliament as far as humanly possible. And we do. And it is (partially) possible. We put up a sign at FOSDEM in February last year calling for help and now we are 2 patrons, 13 members and 29 supporters. You can find info on how to become a supporter or a member (or even patron) of European Parliament Free Software Users Group (EPFSUG) here.

Another administrative answer by the institution to the questions above has been to build an Automatic Tool for AMendments, at4am. If ever I can nominate anybody to the Nobel Peace Prize, it would be the at4am developers team who have made this brilliant application possible. They have succeeded in making independent and competing committees in the European Parliament cooperate to provide information on their internal workings that can be parsed into a unified way of tabling amendments. It’s huge. Imagine a world without git (or anything like it) and then there is git – that is how epic this application is. More than 150k amendments has been tabled since its launch. I’d say that the same number of tears and curses have been saved.

Now, to close this already long, bushy and wild blog post with the reason for it in the first place: The at4am team has decided to share the code with the world, and on Wednesday 11 July we’re going to talk about which license would be best to use. The event is kindly hosted by MEP Marie-Christine Vergiat, and Carlo Piana and Karsten Gerloff from Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) are going to speak. Please come! A follow up meeting should of course focus on how to get the data out of the EP intranet and which licence would then be the best to use.

Why? Because the question “How?!?!” actually has an answer already. Rule 103 of the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament reads as follows:

Transparency of Parliament’s activities

  1. Parliament shall ensure that its activities are conducted with the utmost transparency, in accordance with the second paragraph of Article 1 of the Treaty on European Union, Article 15 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and Article 42 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

That’s a pretty serious standard. Come join to give it meaning! Let’s figure out how to make utmost transparency work in practice.

International Open Legislative Data Conference, July 6-7, Paris!

Regards Citoyens - June 25, 2012 in Events, Legal, Open Government Data, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data

While the newly elected French National Assembly gets ready to choose its president, the question of its modernisation keeps arising. From the academic research world to the hacktivist perspective, parliamentary monitoring and studies are flourishing in France and all over the world. Methods and techniques may differ, but all share one common need: larger transparency regarding parliamentary activity, meaning raw OpenData access to legislative data.

That is the core of the international Open Legislative Data Conference we are organising in Paris on July 6th and 7th together with our academic partners at Sciences-Po, for our project “The Law Factory”. With speakers coming from all over the world, this two-day event will be an opportunity to discuss all kinds of experiences within the field of parliamentary informatics: law tracking, parliamentary monitoring, citizen involvement, rollcall vote analysis and accountability, the study of speeches, and of course raw access to bulk data from parliaments around the world.

On Friday the 6th, the conference will start at Sciences-Po, with a plenary session in the morning introducing various ongoing projects including “The Law Factory” initiated by the conference organizers, and the work on a future “Declaration for Parliamentary Openness”. About 30 different speakers will then present, including Bruno Latour (Sciences-Po’s Medialab), Daniel Schuman (Sunlight Foundation), Claire-Emmanuelle Longuet (French Senate), Tom Steinberg (mySociety), Maria Baron (Latin America Network for Legislative Transparency), Ashok Hariharan (UN’s AkomaNToso project), and many others.

In the afternoon, six working sessions will be held in 3 parallel workshops on the different themes so that participants can share and exchange after a few introductory talks. On Saturday the 7th of July, “La Cantine”, a co-working space used for hosting hackathons and barcamps, will host informal sessions and discussions to enhance cooperation.

Gathering together people from very different horizons, this English-speaking conference is open to anyone: Join us and register! Read the full programme

The public examination of draft laws: Lawmaking 2.0 for Russia

Vasiliy Burov - April 4, 2012 in External, Legal, Open Government Data, WG Open Government Data

Although “democracy” means “rule by the people”, history has known few cases of such a form of government. In the vast majority of cases “democracy” is used to refer to a representative form of a government, in which citizens delegate their political rights to elected officials. As a result, representative democracy leads to bureaucratic establishment.

The emergence of modern Web 2.0 technologies based on active participation, cooperation and collaborative principles, has not only changed understandings of Web content as a mass consumption product. It has inspired a belief that the limitations of traditional government frameworks could be eliminated by means of electronic participation technologies.

Fig 1.The general mechanism of collaborative lawmaking for the Russian Law on Education

Participatory law-making sounds like a pretty radical direction for Open Government, and you might be surprised to learn that it’s been establishing an especially strong foothold in Russia. Starting in 2010, a number of collaborative projects for the improvement of Russian Federation legislative proposals have taken place, including work on proposals for education, a very controversial fisheries bill, and laws around Social Services. These projects have attracted up to 6000 collaborators each, and represent one of the most successful endeavours in citizen participation in legislative process.

Fig 2. web-site for public examination of draft laws in Russia

Based on the Wikivote platform, the site was launched on March 1st, 2012, providing system for the public examination of draft laws of the Russian Federation. Three weeks later it already has 327 registered users and 3 draft bills to inspect. Every Russian citizen or foreign national can submit their version of the draft law article, and vote for or against versions submitted by other participants.

This model of participatory democracy suggests a transition from a culture of political rhetoric to a participatory culture built on crowdsourcing principles. Such a culture is based on attracting the open network community to participating in creative and collaborative problem solving.

There have been several unsuccessful attempts to engage the network community in the lawmaking process. Those attempts have often been based on a naïve belief that publishing draft laws on the Web and inviting everybody to come and comment will automatically aggregate knowledge and improve the quality of the document. To the great disappointment of organisers and participants alike, this generally results in thousands of comments that cannot be aggregated in any way. Only very few of the comments are actually valuable, and even those drown in the information noise.

Soliciting citizens’ expertise in law and regulation making processes requires special efforts towards network community building and the use of technologies that allow aggregating socially dispersed knowledge. To implement this idea we used Wikivote, our platform for collective improvement of structured legislative documents and building an expert community in the Democracy 2.0 framework. We’re calling these initiatives “Lawmaking 2.0”, by analogy with similar projects in the field.

We aim to create a collaborative environment for collaborative creation, improvement and promoting draft laws within public and legislative projects.

So what are the principles of collaborative legislation (in our opinion)?

  • Collaborative document creation and voting has a priority over document deliberation. Our technology allows participants to create their own text versions, that could be voted for by other participants. The value of deliberation is less than the value of collaboration, and contemporary collaboration does not always need discussion. Discussion can take so much time and effort that participants do not have resources to create.

  • Selection of text segments happens through voting, but not on a “one-man-one-vote” notion of democracy. All the votes should be counted, but the weight of each vote depends on the participant’s impact and the estimation of this impact by the community. The more active and respected the participant, the greater the weight of their vote.

  • Public construction of a document aiming at complex cloud issues has high educational value. The practice helps not only produce a quality document and build a community of people interested in its implementation, but promote the innovative document and maintain a new level of understanding and perception within society.

We’d love you to get involved, and also to hear your ideas about the project!

Public Data Consultations: Making Open Data a Reality

Lucy Chambers - August 9, 2011 in Legal, News, Open Government Data, Open Knowledge Definition, Policy

This post is from Lucy Chambers, Community Coordinator at the Open Knowledge Foundation.

Earlier this month, the UK Government published the ‘Open Data Consultation Paper’. Its aim is to establish a “culture of openness and transparency in public services” and the Government is turning to the general public for their preferences on how this should be achieved.

This is an incredibly important opportunity to influence government policy on open data. So if you care about open data – make sure to make your voice heard!

From the Cabinet Office’s Website

> “We want to hear from everyone – citizens, businesses, public services themselves, > and other interest groups – on how we can best embed a culture of openness and > transparency in our public services.”


Francis Maude, quoted from the paper

> Our proposed approach is, fundamentally, about creating both „pull‟ (a right to data) and > „push‟ (a presumption of publication). With these forces, we will begin to embed openness > and transparency in how we run government. This consultation seeks your views on these > ideas.


 Participants from the general public are invited to voice their opinions on the following topics:

  • how we might enhance a ‘right to data’, establishing stronger rights for individuals, businesses and other actors to obtain data from public service providers
  • how to set transparency standards that enforce this right to data
  • how public service providers might be held to account for delivering open data
  • how we might ensure collection and publication of the most useful data
  • how we might make the internal workings of government and the public sector more open
  • how far there is a role for government to stimulate enterprise and market making in the use of open data.

More details on how to respond can be found below:

Send a written response to:

Open Data Consultation,
Transparency Team,
Efficiency and Reform Group,
Cabinet Office,
1 Horse Guards Road,
London SW1A 2HQ

Closing date for submissions is 27th October 2011

See also

Open content film blocked by YouTube in Germany

Jonathan Gray - July 17, 2011 in Legal, Open Content, Open/Closed

The following post is from Jonathan Gray, Community Coordinator at the Open Knowledge Foundation.

Cartoonist, animator and activist Nina Paley recently got in touch with me after her talk at OKCon 2011, saying that her openly licensed film Sita Sings the Blues has been blocked by YouTube in Germany:

GEMA has blocked Sita Sings the Blues from German YouTube for over a year, maybe over 2 years – I can’t be certain because I have only anecdotal reports. I came up with this idea while I was at OKCon in Berlin, and saw the takedown message with my own eyes. Better than using lawyers! Please share!

You can see the video clip she created about this here:

Free! Music! Contest – fewer choices, more freedom

Theodora Middleton - July 13, 2011 in External, Free Culture, Legal, Open Standards, WG Open Licensing, WG Public Domain

The following guest post is by Christian Hufgard, chairman of Musikpiraten, and member of the OKF’s Working Group on the Public Domain.

The Free! Music! Contest is a contest for bands and artists releasing their songs under a creative commons license. In its third year the focus is set on enabling remixes – and freeness. Unlike the last two times, this year only cc-by and cc-by-sa licenses are allowed to be used. Why did the organizers decided to reduce the choices? Most of the songs that won the last two years used nc- or nd-licenses, so it is pretty likely that the change will mean fewer participants.

What is wrong with nc (non-commercial) and nd (no drivatives)? Users are allowed to distribute the music and, if a song is not nd-licensed, to create derivative works. But due to the nature of music, the derivatives are mainly fan-made videos. Creating a remix based on a fully mixed song is much more complex and reduces the possibilities. There are some great artists out there like Girl Talk that mash up songs, but this is not what “derivative work” means: these mashups are in most countries covered by fair use rules. On the other hand commercial websites can get in trouble for license violations if they promote nc music. To sum up: nc- and nd-license are free as in “free beer”. You are allowed to consume and share art, but that’s it. In this way, the contest was more a “Shareable Music Contest”. Not a very sexy name…

One option could have been to ban nc- and nd-licenses. But this would not have solved the problem of creating derivative works. To solve this, an additional rule was introduced: A single track from every song has to be released through the creative commons remix portal This way the contest is truly a “Free! Music! Contest”. The art is not only shareable but also remixable and free for all uses – as long as the author and the license are mentioned.

But artists releasing their work under creative commons are pretty afraid of freedom. They fear that others might profit from their work without getting something in return. To work around that fear, the registered song does not have to be licensed cc-by or cc-by-sa: the rule only applies if a song is chosen for publication on the CD, which is to say that it is one of the contest’s winners.

Reducing the artists’ choice of the license, the contest achieves more freedom for everybody else.

An International Standard for Open (Source) Hardware

Guest - June 15, 2011 in External, Legal, OKCon

The following guest post is by Jürgen Neumann, from the Open Source Hardware and Design Alliance. Jürgen will be joining us at OKCon 2011 as part of a panel on Open Hardware and Open Standards

As the free open source paradigm is shifting towards open everything, there are still a few obstacles to completely shift it into the physical world. Most importantly, the sustainable sharing of the design through a resilient copy-left like license such as GPL or CC can not be transfered towards the devices as such, as those licenses are based on copyright, which can not be applied to things. The equivalent would be patents, but until today there is no clear path for a patent for the public domain. And besides that, the process of patenting can be very time consuming and expensive.

Invention patents supposedly appeared in Venice in the seventeenth century. Their present form stems from the exception to inventors granted by the Statute of Monopolies 1624 (England) to curb arbitrary royal letter patent granting. Back then an invention patent was a significant contribution to economic freedom and it did reward creativity.

But today’s practice of patents has almost turned this notion completely upside down. In particular the abuse of the scope of patents has led to many problems that above all create legal uncertainty especially for the weakest economic players. Huge corporates claim a patent on almost everything, even the most obvious things or just slightly modified blueprints of nature. Only the laws of nature and scientific discovery still remain excluded from patentability. The patent system has become key to investment protection and regulation. Outside big corporates it is preventing innovation rather than boosting it.

On the other hand, as a current UK study underlines, in aggregate, consumers’ annual product development expenditures are 2.3 times larger than the annual consumer product R&D expenditures of all firms in the UK combined.

This growing spreading of so called “consumer” driven innovation is often connected to the ideas and spirit of the free software or open everything movement. There is a great potential for a turning point, especially when we think about the great need for accessible knowledge, green technologies and smarter products to solve many of the world’s most urgent problems.

To unleash this potential and raise people’s awareness we have started with a label at the Open Source Hardware and Design Alliance (OHANDA). Now we want to shift it towards an international private standard.

A private standard for hardware would give open source hardware the necessary protection by making the specifications part of the public domain through a standardized publication procedure. In addition, fabrication standards and code of ethics could be guaranteed through a label which could take the form of a registered collective trademark or private label (such as FSC or bio).

You are very welcome to join!

See the OKCon programme here

You can register for OKCon here

What do you think about Norway’s new open data license?

Guest - April 12, 2011 in Legal, OKI Projects, Open Data, Open Data Commons, Open Definition, Open Government Data, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data, Working Groups

The following guest post is from Sverre Andreas Lunde-Danbolt who works for the Department for ICT and renewal in the Norwegian Ministry of Government Administration, Reform and Church Affairs, and who is a member of the OKF’s Working Group on Open Government Data

The Norwegian Ministry of Government Administration and Reform have just sent a draft version of a new Norwegian Licence for Open Data (NLOD) on a formal hearing here in Norway (the hearing documents (in Norwegian), and a blog post about the licence and the hearing (also in Norwegian)). After the hearing, we intend to recommend all government agencies in Norway to use this licence when they publish data.

Government agencies publishing data are not always very good at specifying the terms under which the information can be reused. In Norway, at least, the introduction of a new sui generis licence for each new data set has become a predictable exercise. This is confusing to the reuser, adding an uneccessary layer of uncertainty, and, in some cases, even impeding legitimate reuse.

The Ministry has therefore decided to establish one common licence. This will reduce the number of open data licences in Norway (one licence to rule them all). The licence is a rather straightforward attribution licence under Norwegian law. Its main purpose is to enable reuse in Norway, but to make sure data under NLOD can be combined with other data as well as reused internationally, the licence states clearly that it is compatible with Open Government Licence (v1.0), Creative Commons Attribution Licence (generic v1.0, v2.0, v2.5 and unported v3.0), and Open Data Commons Attribution Licence (v 1.0).

The most important details in the licence are the following:

  • Personal data is not covered by the licence. This is the same as in Open Government Licence.
  • The reuser cannot distort the information or use the information to mislead. The NLOD definition of this seems to be less restrictive than the definition used in Open Government Licence.
  • NLOD specifies that the licencor can provide more information on the quality or delivery of data, but that this kind of information is outside the scope of the licence. NLOD only covers the rights to use the information.
  • Information licenced under NLOD will also be licenced under future versions of the licence, provided that the licensor has not explicitly licenced information under v1.0. This gives the Norwegian Government more sway over public sector information, and reduces the chances of data ending up as a kind of orphan works in the future.

What do you think?

Richard Poynder interviews Jordan Hatcher

Guest - October 19, 2010 in Interviews, Legal, Open Data, Open Data Commons, Open Definition, Open Government Data, Open Knowledge Definition, Open Knowledge Foundation, Public Domain, WG Open Licensing

Open Acccess journalist extraordinaire Richard Poynder recently interviewed the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Jordan Hatcher about data licensing, the public domain, and lots more. An excerpt is reproduced below. The full version is available on Richard’s website.

Over the past twenty years or so we have seen a rising tide of alternative copyright licences emerge — for software, music and most types of content. These include the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) licence, the General Public Licence (GPL), and the range of licences devised by Creative Commons (CC). More recently a number of open licences and “dedications” have also been developed to assist people make data more freely available.

The various new licences have given rise to terms like “copyleft” and “libre” licensing, and to a growing social and political movement whose ultimate end-point remains to be established.

Why have these licences been developed? How do they differ from traditional copyright licences? And can we expect them to help or hinder reform of the traditional copyright system — which many now believe has got out of control? I discussed these and other questions in a recent email interview with Jordan Hatcher.

A UK-based Texas lawyer specialising in IT and intellectual property law, Jordan Hatcher is co-founder of, a board member of the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF), and blogs under the name opencontentlawyer.


Jordan Hatcher

Big question

RP: Can you begin by saying something about yourself and your experience in the IP/copyright field?

JH: I’m a Texas lawyer living in the UK and focusing on IP and IT law. I concentrate on practical solutions and legal issues centred on the intersection of law and technology. While I like the entire field of IP, international IP and copyright are my most favourite areas.

As to more formal qualifications, I have a BA in Radio/TV/Film, a JD in Law, and an LLM in Innovation, Technology and the Law. I’ve been on the team that helped bring Creative Commons licences to Scotland and have led, or been a team member on, a number of studies looking at open content licences and their use within universities and the cultural heritage sector.

I was formerly a researcher at the University of Edinburgh in IP/IT, and for the past 2.5 years have been providing IP strategy and IP due diligence services with a leading IP strategy consultancy in London.

I’m also the co-founder and principal legal drafter behind Open Data Commons, a project to provide legal tools for open data, and the Chair of the Advisory Council for the Open Definition. I sit on the board for the Open Knowledge Foundation.

More detail than you can ask for is available on my web site here, and on my LinkedIn page here.

RP: It might also help if you reminded us what role copyright is supposed to play in society, how that role has changed over time (assuming that you feel it has) and whether you think it plays the role that society assigned to it successfully today.

JH: Wow that’s a big question and one that has changed quite a bit since the origin of copyright. As with most law, I take a utilitarian / legal realist view that the law is there to encourage a set of behaviours.

Copyright law is often described as being created to encourage more production and dissemination of works, and like any law, its imperfect in its execution.

I think what’s most interesting about copyright history is the technology side (without trying to sound like a technological determinist!). As new and potentially disruptive technologies have come along and changed the balance — from the printing press all the way to digital technology — the way we have reacted has been fairly consistent: some try to hang on to the old model as others eagerly adopt the new model.

For those interested in learning more about copyright’s history, I highly recommend the work of Ronan Deazley, and suggest people look at the first sections in Patry on Copyright. They could also usefully read Patry’s Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars. Additionally, there are many historical materials on copyright available at the homepage for a specific research project on the topic here.

Three tranches

RP: In the past twenty years or so we have seen a number of alternative approaches to licensing content develop — most notably through the General Public Licence and the set of licences developed by the Creative Commons. Why do you think these licences have emerged, and what are the implications of their emergence in your view?

JH: I see free and open licence development as happening within three tranches, all related to a specific area of use.

1. FOSS for software. Alongside the GPL, there have been a number of licences developed since the birth of the movement (and continuing to today), all aimed at software. These licences work best for software and tend to fall over when applied to other areas.

2. Open licences and Public licences for content. These are aimed at content, such as video, images, music, and so on. Creative Commons is certainly the most popular, but definitely not the first. The birth of CC does however represent a watershed moment in thinking about open licensing for content.

I distinguish open licences from public licences here, mostly because Creative Commons is so popular. Open has so many meanings to people (as do “free”) that it is critical to define from a legal perspective what is meant when one says “open”. The Open Knowledge Definition does this, and states that “open” means users have the right to use, reuse, and redistribute the content with very few restrictions — only attribution and share-alike are allowed restrictions, and commercial use must specifically be allowed.

The Open Definition means that only two out of the main six CC licences are open content licences — CC-BY and CC-BY-SA. The other four involve the No Derivatives (ND) restriction (thus prohibiting reuse) or have Non Commercial (NC) restrictions. The other four are what I refer to as “public licences”; in other words they are licences provided for use by the general public.

Of course CC’s public domain tools, such as CC0, all meet the Open Definition as well because they have no restrictions on use, reuse, and redistribution.

I wrote about this in a bit more detail recently on my blog.

3. Open Data Licences. Databases are different from content and software — they are a little like both in what users want to do with them and how licensors want to protect them, but are different from software and content in both the legal rights that apply and how database creators want to use open data licences.

As a result, there’s a need for specific open data licences, which is why we founded Open Data Commons. Today we have three tools available. It’s a new area of open licensing and we’re all still trying to work out all the questions and implications.

Open data

RP: As you say, data needs to be treated differently from other types of content, and for this reason a number of specific licences have been developed — including the Public Domain Dedication Licence (PDDL), the Public Doman Dedication Certificate (PDDC) and Creative Commons Zero. Can you explain how these licences approach the issue of licensing data in an open way?

JH: The three you’ve mentioned are all aimed at placing work into the public domain. The public domain has a very specific meaning in a legal context: It means that there are no copyright or other IP rights over the work. This is the most open/free approach as the aim is to eliminate any restrictions from an IP perspective.

There are some rights that can be hard to eliminate, and so of course patents may still be an issue depending on the context, (but perhaps that’s conversation for another time).

In addition to these tools, we’ve created two additional specific tools for openly licensing databases — the ODbL and the ODC-Attribution licences.

RP: Can you say something about these tools, and what they bring to the party?

JH: All three are tools to help increase the public domain and make it more known and accessible.

There’s some really exciting stuff going on with the public domain right now, including with PD calculators — tools to automatically determine whether a work is in the public domain. The great thing about work in the public domain is that it is completely legally interoperable, as it eliminates copyright restrictions.

See the rest of the interview on Open and Shut

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