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Commons-Free Software, Free Content, Open Access

In an earlier post, I mentioned my attendance at one day of a conference in Hannover Germany called “Commons, Users, Service Providers: Internet (Self-)Regulation and Copyright.” The theme on the day (March 18, 2010) that I attended was “Commons-Free Software, Free Content, Open Access.” Now that I am trying to catchup on a a year’s worth of academic loose ends (our semester is just now ending) I wish that I could offer a fuller report of the conference. I think that I will need to settle for a comment or two and a word of thanks.

I especially benefited from a couple of presentations. One of these was “GNU GPL Version 3: The Law Making Process” by Eben Moglen, a professor of law at Columbia University. Professor Moglen has been very involved in the development of the GPL and he spoke of it in light of the ways that such arrangements represent a kind of non-governmental international law-making framework. He described the approach used in GPL3 as emphasizing new and general language that does not provoke default assumptions in any particular national jurisdiction. Other presenters spoke of other pathways toward internationalizing other IP/copyleft instruments. He was ill and unable to attend in person but prepared a very remarkable video that he sent to the conference. I hope that it is placed online as it would standalone very well even though it addressed the conference and conferees directly.

The two other presentations that I will mention were “Creative Commons International: Achievements and Perspectives” by Catharina Maracke and “Linux, Wikipedia and Other Networks: Governed by Bilateral Contracts, Corporations, or Something in Between?” by Dan Wielsch. Professor Maracke is the former director of Creative Commons International. She is now teaching at Keio University in Japan. He talk was a great overview of the approach that has been taken in internationalizing the Creative Commons toolkit. In contrast to the GPL, this has involved creating local versions for each national jurisdiction. Professor Wielsch teaches at the University of Cologne and his talk described research on the evolution of community governance in massive collaborative content production projects such as Wikipedia. While a subject that numerous people have been discussing in recent years, his presentation was clear and effective. As a non-specialist I learned a lot from it and from many of the presentations.

(Strangely, the area where I had the most background–open access–was the focus for the only presentation that, it seemed to me, was the most out of sync with the spirit of the day’s discussions and most contrary with my own understandings and views of the topic.)

As the first formal academic conference that I have ever attended in Germany, the even was very instructive. While mostly native German-speakers, the audience and presenters controlled and used perfect English. I both appreciated this fact (at a practical level) and found it a source of guilt (as an advocate of linguistic and cultural diversity).

I was in Germany as a guest of the DFG Cultural Property Research Group at the University of Göttingen and was hosted at the Hannover Conference by Mr. Philipp Zimbehl and Professor Dr. Gerald Spindler. I wish to extend my appreciation to them and to my overall hosts Professor Dr. Regina Bendix and Ms. Arnika Peselmann.

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