Just over a week ago was the 2nd Communia Workshop, which took place in Turin. The theme was ‘Global Science and the Economics of Knowledge-Sharing Institutions’ – and there was a great line up of scientists, economists, and legal scholars, as well as representatives from various research bodies and NGOs.

Papers, slides and audio will be published on the Communia website site in the near future.

Following are some highlights of the event:

  • Hans Hoffman at CERN mentioned how their archives of scheduled meetings exceeded 17,000 in 2008 with over 81,000 contributions. He said 100% of their research publications are green open access, and over 85% gold open access. Furthermore all material related to ‘life cycle description (software, blueprints, administrative records, etc.) are under a Creative Commons style license. (Though it is not clear whether or no this was open or not!) He cited the notion that the ‘value of knowledge increases with its use’. He also alluded to the ERC ‘5th freedom’ – the free movement of knowledge. He said that many of our biggest challenges cannot be tackled alone, and collaboration is crucial. He finished by emphasising the importance of a balance of IP between public and private interests.

  • Paul F. Uhlir at the National Academies spoke about environmental data sharing policies – which I was particularly interested to hear about given our interest in this area a couple of years ago. He spoke about how Federal US Government data was in the public domain – in contrast to the model in Europe which is often to commercialise information by ‘hoarding and selling’ it. Remote sensing data, he said, is often not shared on national security grounds. Hence it is slow to build up the large datasets we need. That said there is a general movement towards openness. As examples he cited the OECD recommendations and China’s data sharing policy. He said the value of data was greatly diminished if it was used only by the creators – and that this was especially true of environmental data. The GEOSS initiative was set up to improve environmental data sharing. The amount of data represented is the largest single collection in the world. He said that there was full exchange of data within GEOSS – though it was not clear to what extent data is shared externally.

  • Nicole Perrin of the Wellcome Trust spoke about open access and research funding policy.

  • Bernt Hugenholtz at IViR (who was also at the Amstrerdam Workshop) spoke about the threats IP law posed to the dissemination of knowledge. He spoke of the ‘paradox of IP’ to share knowledge by granting temporary monopolies. He identified the following threats: (i) rights in data, (ii) the commodification of government data (e.g. Landmark case), (iii) increasing contractualisation. To counterbalance these threats he suggested:

    • Broadening exceptions for copyright and DB rights.
    • Limiting/abolishing copyright/DB rights in government data.
    • Discourage ‘all rights’ transfers to publishers in academia.
    • Promote open licensing.
    • Require open access to publicly funded research.
    • Reconsider the privatisation of public data functions.
  • Jerry and Marie Thursby of Georgia Institute of Technology spoke about their research looking at how bio-scientists shared their research with each other, and generally with the public. Their talk gave a rich picture of the various incentives and behaviours involved in information sharing.

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Dr. Jonathan Gray is Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London, where he is currently writing a book on data worlds. He is also Cofounder of the Public Data Lab; and Research Associate at the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the médialab (Sciences Po, Paris). More about his work can be found at jonathangray.org and he tweets at @jwyg.