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Better Internet Series: Access to Information and Knowledge

Better Internet

See our article introducing this series.

This article is part of a series of five articles detailing breakout sessions from the 2021 Creative Commons (CC) Global Summit related to imagining a Better Internet. Throughout 2021, community partners interested in building a “better internet” have been coming together for conversations. Some partners joined as an opportunity to mark the 10th anniversary of the US-based fight to defeat the legislation known as SOPA/PIPA

INTRODUCTION

During the 2021 Creative Commons (CC) Global Summit, organizations, activists, advocates, librarians, educators, lawyers, technologists, and others participated in workshops on “creating a better internet.” During the breakout conversation on “Access to Information and Knowledge,” participants discussed problems, generated ideas, and formulated solutions about re-imagining the internet. 

VISION FOR THE FUTURE

In 2003, The Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities issued an international statement about open access and access to knowledge, “the mission of disseminating knowledge is only half complete if the information is not made widely and readily available to society”. This ideal holds true today.

The emerging vision for access to information and knowledge, in all disciplines, includes free, equitable, openly licensed, and trusted information that serves the public’s interests. 

Benefits: Open access to information and knowledge (as opposed to closed, subscription, paid access, or censored access) is vital for solving the world’s biggest challenges through increased readership, wider collaboration, and faster results for institutions, researchers, nations, and citizens. It strengthens the valorization of knowledge and could be a critical step in advancing UNESCO’s sustainable development goals. 

In order to reach this vision, a number of critical barriers were discussed during the workshop. 

BARRIERS TO OVERCOME

In 1984, Stewart Brand said, “Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine—too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, ‘intellectual property’, the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better.”

As you can see, the balancing act between social impact and profit is not new; however, today cultural shifts are happening. Purpose-driven consumers support and are demanding business models to change for the betterment of society. COVID-19 accelerated this shift as more and more companies are creating social impact statements and delivering tangible action on those statements. Why can’t that be the case for the dissemination of information?

Publication Business Model: In a print-on-paper business model, journals sold through subscriptions were a way to recoup cost. Only those who could afford to pay the charges were able to read the articles. The internet changed the cost of distribution, but not necessarily the model. Research findings could be freely shared without printing costs. Publicly-funded research should be freely accessible so that society can benefit from the results. 

Most journal publishers, not the authors, own the copyright to the articles in their journals as authors must transfer their rights. The status of publication and peer review is an incentive for many authors. This is an old business model. 

For libraries, educational institutions and other organizations, they must negotiate with publishers to share paywalled research with their stakeholders. Even then, in many cases the article cannot be reused or built upon by researchers, students, or taxpayers without permission, and often more fees, from the publisher.

Great strides have been made in terms of access to research with publishers adopting open licensing options, but often the cost of the publication then falls to the author or their home institution, shifting the burden of the cost, allowing the publisher to retain their margins. This is a known challenge and Creative Commons anticipates further conversations in the coming year exploring these tensions of open access.

Digital Divide: The digital divide is the gap between demographics and regions that have access to information and technology and those that have restricted access based on region or barriers. This unequal equity divide can be based on education, income, geography, language, and internet access. In 2021, nearly 37% of the world’s population had never used the internet (source: United Nations 11.20.21). While open and freely distributed access to information and technology would help close the divide, it doesn’t solve all of the problems with equity. 

Permissions: Copyright can unreasonably restrict a user’s access to content and doesn’t have to be a barrier to open access if the copyright holder gives consent through Creative Commons licenses. These “some rights reserved” permissions, that focus on the end-user and their ability to access copyright material, empowers the content holder and elevates the public interest impact of access. This also safeguards public institutions which promote the preservation of and public access to information, knowledge, and culture; but as those in the open movement know all too well, great swaths of human history, culture, and knowledge still remain locked away despite already being in the public domain.

Trusted Information: Today’s internet is rife with concerns about privacy, confidentiality, violence, misinformation, bias, excessive profit and polarization. There are ideological and competing differences between autocracies and democracies. While global connectivity accelerates the benefits of sharing information and knowledge, it has also created problems that have harmed citizens. Misinformation was one of the topics discussed during the workshops and the outcomes of those discussions will be explored in-depth in a separate article.

Censorship was not comprehensively discussed during the breakout session, but Creative Commons plans to explore this topic in depth during future workshops. 

In order to make progress towards better access to information and knowledge, here are some action steps to realizing an affirmative vision. As mentioned before, this is not a comprehensive list but highlights from the workshop conversations.

REALIZING THE VISION

The vision of access to information and knowledge includes the free, equitable, openly licensed, and trusted information that serves the public’s interests. How can we get there? 

Better access to information and knowledge prioritizes policy and advocacy, an ethical cultural shift, and public interest commons.

The overarching, guiding principle of all work focuses on what best serves the public’s interests and clarifies the use of the internet to preserve the benefits and limit, or eliminate, the harms we as a society have allowed to grow online. 

Policy and Advocacy: Policy and advocacy should focus on what is best for public interest. This work for a better internet can include: open access licensing, progressive intellectual property law reform, access regulations, digital divide, helping UNESCO’s members implement Open Education and Open Science recommendations, freedom of expression, and access to affordable communications tools and creative works, to name a few that were mentioned during the workshops. Creative Commons anticipates organizing and discovering many more policy and advocacy priorities as discussion around a better internet continues.

Open Internet for Democracy: The internet is an information domain, and supporting an open and accessible internet is fundamental to the success of democratic societies. Digital spaces should serve the public’s interest. In order to get there, all sectors of society, including governments, the tech industry, publishers, and civil society, should focus on trusted information, ethics, privacy and transparency that value people over profit. Accurate, fair, and trusted information should be digital age norms and considered as an essential service. Truth is knowable and citizens should be able to access information in a language they can consume and discern sources.

Global access, accurate news, and fact-based public information spaces could help inform citizens, strengthen democratic self-governance, close the digital divide, and help address the world’s problems. More discussion took place on the topic of misinformation, which touched on a lot of these, and will be explored in a future article. Access to information and access to accurate information are two different but related challenges.

CONCLUSION

A recurring point that emerged during the workshop was a desire for a public interest commons that supersedes commercial interests. Aspiring, constructing, and reinforcing better access to information and knowledge, to solve social and community challenges, will require prioritizing democratic self-governance, public good, innovative technological solutions, education, advocacy, and policy work. To reach this goal, it is important to educate others, including policymakers, publishers, authors, and creators, so they have a better understanding of open source licensing, and how better sharing of information, knowledge and culture is in the public’s best interest to advance society. This includes using shared language and translations, without legalese, so that all citizens have equal opportunities to learn and contribute. 


APPENDIX

The following is a consolidation of comments made during the 2021 CC Global Summit breakout session, Access to Information and Knowledge. If you would like to add your thoughts and participate in the conversation, use #BetterInternet on social media.

PROMPT

“I will know we have achieved a better internet with regard to Access to Information if/when…”

Barriers

Locate Info. 

Cost

There are no barriers to finding the information you want to find. If it existed, it’s available for you to read/listen to/watch/otherwise consume without cost.

 Individual interest can’t impede legitimate access to information.

 There are no more funding battles concerning libraries and their future in supporting a better internet.

We do not constantly hit paywalls if we look for scientific information.

Digital Divide

Equity

Gov Regulation

Where you live doesn’t limit your ability to access information.

 Everyone/everywhere across the world has easy access to information. 

 High quality information is available in a language that most people can understand and process.

Governments don’t use legal means to restrict internet access for their own ends.

Education

Open Licensing
Developers, researchers, others, have a better understanding of open source licensing.

All information is accessible through a CC licenses.

All information about and resources to solve the United Nations (UNSCO) Sustained Development Goals is openly licensed and freely available to the public.

Public Interest We have open platform that enable smooth access but also re-purposing content – at the same time we have effective social control (no spam, no threats, no discrimination).

Information is accountable to people.

When publicly available information can be accessed without license or tracking.

We no longer need freedom of information rules.

Governments don’t use legal means to restrict internet access for their own ends.

Regulations are set up to protect individuals and not to restrict access.

Publicly Funded = OPEN All publicly funded education resources are openly licensed (CC BY).

 All publicly funded research is openly licensed (CC BY on articles, 0 embargo, CC0 on data).

 Publicly funded pharmaceuticals have open patents and are freely available.

Trusted Information Every user has a known toolkit of trusted tools that they can trust to find the knowledge they want, and understand why, where, and the context of the information they’re given.

 High quality (trusted) information is freely available and effectively support equal rights for education.

PROMPT

I/We are working to realize a better internet with regard to Access to Information by doing X to achieve Z.

Open Source Licenses

Public Domain

Ensuring information is not locked away by law (ex: copyright) or technology (ex: 1201-empowered software).

 Using openly licensed content to achieve free no barrier access to research and information. 

 Campaigning for the public domain to achieve a commons for all.

 Removing proprietary ownership to achieve access for everyone everywhere.

Cost and publisher model Contesting actions by publishers to propertize public information and academic research. 
Policy:

Work with governments

Education

By helping UNESCO’s members (national governments) implement its Recommendations on Open Education and Open Science.

 Ensuring that policymakers understand and believe in the importance of access to information.

 Pushing back on overreaching/oversimplified information regulation.

Public Interest  and Equity and Inclusivity Understanding how to better share to achieve freeing of knowledge and culture for the public good and in the public interest.

Providing factual, trustworthy information in a language that people without university degree can understand is essential to achieve wisdom, democracy, and equal opportunities.

Sharing more to achieve a more inclusive net.

Intermediary Protection Ensuring that services and people can help provide information/facilitate information sharing/host information/etc. 

 

Posted 18 January 2022

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