Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Open Government

Larry Lessig, one of the major proponents for an open Internet, has helped start a new organization - Open Government.

The concept is simple. Open Government simply wants to ensure that the transparency of government that President-elect Obama promised does in fact happen. Towards that end, it's presenting a petition to sign supporting the three principles for an open transition:

1) No legal barrier to sharing - Everything on the Change.gov website has a Creative Commons license, giving virtually everyone the right to use the material with few restrictions. Why is this important? To prevent silliness such as Oregon sending a cease-and-desist letter to a website critical of its judicial decisions. The website quoted Oregon statutes, which the state claimed was copyrighted material.

2) No technological barrier to sharing - Some government websites prevent cutting-and-pasting of their material. Why? It's not proprietary to an individual or a corporation. All this point says is that government information available to public viewing should be available for the public to take and use as they wish.

3) Free competition - Currently, when an official makes a public statement, the mainstream media covers it, and promptly locks down the video as proprietary. But is it? When all the networks use the same feed provided by the government, do they really own it? This proposal simply asks that videos of public statements be available for the general public to use. Naturally, if a network edits a clip incorporates it into a segment produced and hosted by their employees, that's legitimate to copyright. But the source footage freely provided? Not so much. And if you think this is an esoteric issue, remember that the McCain campaign had many of their ads pulled because of just this kind of "copyright infringement."

I encourage everyone to go to Open Government and read their explanation of these principles. I signed the petition, but I'm not telling anyone else to. Just go, read, and decide for yourself.

That's the way an open government should work.

- Ralph

Day 165 of the WJMA Web Watch.

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