Economic Sustainability and Governance of Open Online Collaboration

Open online collaboration requires some infrastructure to make it possible (a platform, servers, URLs, etc.) We can identify several different types of providers and models for the provision and running of these infrastructures: autonomous representative foundations, mission enterprises, assembly-based self-provision, service provision corporations and university networks are the most common online platform providers. There is an urgent need to reflect on the pros and cons of these models through rigorous comparisons, and to carry out research into innovative legal forms, governance models and economically sustainable formulas, which will allow us to implement new models of online infrastructure provision.

Above all, we need new models that are not based on anti-freedom and anti-autonomous culture preconditions (proprietary software, non data portability, control over participants, etc), and at the same time are economically sustainable – individually and collectively. The working plan is based on examining and reflecting on experiences from different continents that have been successful, but also those that have failed. We will look at non-profit infrastructure provision projects (such as Wikipedia), but also for-profit models that combine net enabler–free culture preconditions with “fair” profitable formulas (in contrast to the new pro-monopoly economy of multinational corporations) such as Argentinean cooperatives and projects like Identica, Wikia, Wikitravel, Meetup and Wikihow. What organizational strategies based on the principles of freedom and autonomy can sustain open online collaboration? What relational frameworks and conditions for collaborating with infrastructure providers can lead to community-driven infrastructure governance? What specific sources of sustainability work on both individual and collective terms?

Our plan in regards to co-involving participants in the working groups is based on inviting people linked to projects that encompass a plurality of approaches, with an international scope of discussion (including projects based in the USA, Latin America – in particular Argentina and Brazil – Spain and the rest of Europe). We will also invite economists from different backgrounds who specialize in this area.

New Models of Sustainability for the Creative Sector

In 1997, when the first creative industry plans started to emerge, it was decided that this new sector must “generate employment and wealth by exploiting intellectual property rights.” The creative industries were then summoned to replace traditional industries in cities, and to integrate artists, graphic and fashion designers, craftsmen, copywriters, producers, directors, web programmers and so on into the same playing field as the big vertically organized companies typical of the cultural industries (record labels, publishing houses, theatre enterprises, film studios, etc). At that moment, a fatal error occurred, with dreadful consequences for this whole area. There was an underlying belief that the wealth-production model that the cultural industries had followed (based on the creation of little monopolies built up around intellectual property), would also work for microenterprises and autonomous cultural agents. But this was not the case.

In comparison, there is a small group of creative activities whose practitioners (musicians, artists, designers, photographers, writers, etc.) earn an income based on the profits generated through royalties. Workers in these fields have always made their living by developing mixed-economy models that include earnings through wages, direct product sales, service provision, live performances, teaching and talks, conferences and workshops. In the face of the growing economization of culture promoted by creative industries plans, many creative workers began to take a critical stance, questioning business models based on confining and conferring value on shared knowledge, or on the privatization of culture. Meanwhile, their own experience led them to be mistrustful of the promise that royalties arising from copyright would provide them with a regular income.

Within this process, in many contexts, royalties management and collecting societies kept promising profits arising from the exploitation of intellectual property. Creative workers and artists joined these organizations under the misleading promise that they would earn adequately to live on. Not only did this not happen, but they also found that when their friends, neighbours or relatives wanted to access their work, they had to do it through a very unpleasant entity that wanted to charge them for access to cultural expressions that, in some cases, they had even helped to create.

With the emergence of the Internet and digital tools, the production and distribution costs of cultural products went into steep decline. Meanwhile, they offered music groups, journalists, writers, photographers, designers, etc. the possibility of a more direct relationship with their fans, clients, friends and neighbours. This meant that intermediaries (like record labels, publishing houses, royalties management and collecting societies, etc.) began to seem redundant. At the same time, it became impossible and unnecessary to control digitalized content.

Creative communities around the world started sharing their archives, exchanging ideas, remixing their songs and enjoying a previously unimagined pool of creative tools. Nevertheless, the institutions promoted by the creative industries and royalties management and collecting societies are determined to defend the business model based on restriction, which confines creative communities virtually rather than stimulating them.

Creative workers continue to seek a formula that guarantees them an income, makes it possible to share their work, and allows them to continue developing. This is why it is decisive right now to experiment with new models of business and organization in the cultural sphere. Many creative workers and cultural enterprises are making huge efforts by building open and sustainable business models, in defiance of the canonical ideas established by creative industries gurus.

The Free Software movement has been crucial to many of these initiatives. Far from generating an economy based on “totally free/no cost,” Free/libre Software has been able to develop and economic model based on a network of non-monopolistic enterprises (unlike proprietary software) that combines the sale of products with service provision. This situation provided a boost for the cultural sphere, which was unsatisfied with the obsolete royalties management and collecting societies, and looking for more sustainable ways to secure an income.

In this situation, cultural practitioners and enterprises that are not willing to put a fence around their own knowledge and community-generated know-how are emerging. These new initiatives have to find models that allow them to keep contributing to the commons, and at the same time to pay their workers. On the other hand, P2P technology offers a model that makes it possible to think in terms of production and cooperation among peers, and which is completely legal in Spain right now (as ratified by many legal statements).

So it is time to pay attention to these things that are happening around us, and unmask the discursive trick that claims that copyright is the only way to secure an income for creative workers.

On this panel we will also discuss new direct revenue models of income for the creative sector.

The models that are currently emerging – alongside institutional models of public and private funding – are:

  • A system based on monitoring online distribution (streaming and downloading) and selling at fair prices
  • The sale of content without restrictive licenses, that is also legally available for free
  • An approach that follows Mike Masonick’s equation: Connect with Fans (CwF) + Reason to Buy (RtB) = Business Model Sharing based on sharing copies in order to build a reputation that then allows you to charge for “services” – things that cannot be copied such as live performances, works-for-hire and other forms of marketing
  • A flat rate charged on Internet connections

Tools for policy reformers

Modern communications technologies are changing the relationship between citizens and legislators, and bringing new advocacy opportunities to would-be policy reformers. NGOs and activist organisations can take advantage of innovations in communication, collaboration and analysis tools that, taken together with the availability of electronic records of the legislative process, make it possible to take legislative transparency and policy reform advocacy to a whole new level.

NGOs focusing on technology-related policy have demonstrated that they are in the best position to develop, maintain and employ such tools, tools that will eventually have a wide-ranging impact on a broader range of policy reform efforts. Already, innovative use of internet technologies has enabled these NGOs to harness massive crowd-sourcing power, pushing their causes up the agenda of legislators and making their advocacy much more effective.

This bottom-up delivery of tools has so far ensured a very high user-commitment and this workshop seeks to build on that. The purpose of this workshop is both to introduce existing tools to those policy reform organizations not already familiar with them, and to facilitate further development of these and other tools by drawing on the experience, needs and expertise of policy reform NGOs, particularly those with a focus on the EU. This workshop tries to foster dialogue between users and tool providers.

Tools that will be examined and discussed at the worshop focus on three main areas of policy reform activity:

  • Interpreting legislative documents – e.g. Tratten, Pippi Longstrings, Co-ment
  • Bringing policymakers and their activities closer to citizens – e.g. Political Memory, ItsYourParliament, Citizen Intelligence Agency, (UK)
  • Facilitating collaboration – e.g. Co-ment, Etherpad

Open Public Sector Information

The information held by the public sector (PSI) can be perceived as a huge gold mine containing information, data and content. Public bodies or bodies supported by public funds acquire, organize and use information related to their activities while working on their institutional tasks; like other public bodies they generate information through their activities. There are good reasons not to miss the opportunities offered by the PSI: not only because tax-payers have already paid for obtaining the same data selection, collection or generation service; but also because the creation or improvement of services resulting from the data generation or aggregation can be encouraged by making available decentralized choices identifying innovative ways to use PSI.

Given the ever growing amount of information we come into contact with everyday in the digital era we are living in, the appropriate exploitation of public data potential may offer profitable (yet mostly unexplored) market opportunities. Additionally, the availability of PSI would provide a strong contribution to a more democratic participation process, by making citizens truly aware of the public reality around them and bringing more transparency to the actions and choices of decision-makers.

This panel will approach and discuss the different legal, technological and factual challenges that lie in the field of Open Public Sector Information; not only in terms of PSI availability, but in terms of PSI re-use as well. Discussing the various European PSI initiatives at both national and local scale (e.g., the UK Government PSI repository;, the recent PSI database launched in Italy by Regione Piemonte), shall provide a useful starting point for thinking about what has/has not been done so far; what could have been done better; and what should be done in order to make such valuable and abundant information widely available to entities and citizens, and then re-usable for commercial or non-commercial purposes.