Submission on Australian Digital Future Directions

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This is a proposed submission from Wikimedia Australia to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy on the Digital Economy Future Directions Consultation Paper. The paper is available at http://www.dbcde.gov.au/communications_for_business/industry_development/digital_economy


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Consultation Paper:
Digital Economy Future Directions


Submission of
Wikimedia Australia Incorporated


February 2009


Submitted by email:DEFutureDirections@dbcde.gov.au
  1. About us

This submission is made on behalf of Wikimedia Australia Incorporated.


We thank the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) for the opportunity to comment on the Consultation Paper “Digital Economy Future Directions” (the Consultation Paper).


Wikimedia Australia is a member-based non-profit organisation whose members come together to advance Free Cultural Works[1] in Australia. We achieve this by promoting Free Cultural Works and related open source software systems; increasing public awareness, support and participation in projects hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation – Including the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia; and by developing resources to assist Australians in the creation and maintenance of free cultural works.


  1. Outline

One of the cornerstones of Wikimedia Australia is enabling, assisting and promoting access to information for anybody, anywhere, anytime and for any purpose. We see the digital economy enabling this vision to improve education and innovation in Australia and around the world.


To enable the digital economy, the government will have to overcome the “digital divide” between metropolitan and regional Australia[2]. A true digital economy is only possible if it is accessible to Australians regardless of geographical locations at a speed and price that is comparable with OECD standards.[3]


Indeed, the digital economy can improve the quality of life and education in regional centres. We support the belief of the Australian Libraries Copyright Committee that

The availability of high speed broadband across Australia can reduce many problems of resourcing and access to information faced in Australia due to our dispersed population. People such as students and researchers in remote areas could be provided with equal access to quality resources and texts as those available in metropolitan centres. Any person with access to a computer and high speed broadband, regardless of socioeconomic status, can have access to knowledge.[4]


  1. Open Access to Public Sector Information

Wikimedia Australia strongly supports the proposal to open access to public sector information (PSI). There are many and varied benefits of opening PSI for use and re-use. For Wikimedia Australia, this would allow us to improve the quality of content on Wikimedia projects such as Wikipedia and Wikibooks. Contributors would be able to reference open PSI, which could be then verified by those using Wikimedia resources for educational and other purposes.


By opening PSI, the government will benefit individuals, business, the education sector and cultural institutions.


Wikimedia Australia applauds the Australian Bureau of Statistics for its recent move to a Creative Commons licence for all information on its website and would like to see other government departments and agencies moving to a similar model in the future.


A number of cultural organistions in Australia are currently pursuing or have commenced increased access to materials over the Internet through digitisation. This allows Australians who might be precluded from visiting these organisations due to geographical barriers to view parts of their collections.


We address below some specific questions in the Consultation Paper:

What categories of Public Sector information are most useful to industry and other stakeholders to enable innovation and promote the digital economy?

We support the submission of the Australian Digital Alliance (ADA) and agree that it is difficult to predict what information will be useful to its users.

From Wikimedia Australia's perspective, the most useful PSIs are maps, archival audiovisual recordings, photography of public officials and of landmarks (both recent and historical). Opening these PSIs would enable us to further develop content on Wikimedia projects using high quality support materials. Most significantly, government funded cultural works such as documentary film footage and radio broadcasts held in the National Archives and National Film and Sound Archives are held with great restriction on access and use.


If PSI is made open access, what are the best formats to enable and promote use and

reuse?

Wikimedia Australia supports the submission of Electronic Frontiers Australia in its call for the use of open standards. This refers especially not not only publishing PSI the de-facto standards of information delivery but also those which are the agreed interoperable and open standards of the relevant industry. For example, this means that although Microsoft .doc format is a commonly used document format, its open standard equivalent is .odt. These standards have much greater possibility of remaining usable into the future as methods of accessing information change as they are not reliant on the patronage of a particular corporation. Furthermore, using open standards lowers the barriers to access in PSI as there are no licensing fees required to be paid by the end user (such as through the purchase of proprietary software).


If PSI is made open access, what licensing terms would best facilitate the use of PSI?

It is the opinion of Wikimedia Australia that PSI belongs to the public and therefore should be treated as public domain by default. Any restrictions placed on the reuse of PSI should be justified on a case by case basis.

Wikimedia Australia would like to see Australian government works released in a similar fashion to those of federal government employees in the United States, that is straight into the public domain with no restrictions. It is this licensing scheme that has served to distribute United States PSI so broadly and thereby play a role in the ability to distribute American cultural works around the world. For example, NASA's deep space photography is available for all to use whilst content created by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is held with great restrictions on access and reuse. Consequently, few may access the ABC whilst all are aware of the works of NASA.

Should licensing terms distinguish between commercial uses and non-commercial uses and reuses?

Should the government be unwilling to release PSI into the public domain, Wikimedia Australia believes that the Creative Commons Attribution licence would best facilitate use and reuse.

We strongly discourage any differentiation between commercial and non-commercial use of PSI on the basis that such limitations will only serve to limit usage of Australian government content in the broad range of cultural works which may be intended for sale.


Is there any additional economic modelling or other evidence to show the benefit to

Australia from open access of PSI?


Creative Commons Australia has undertaken significant research into proving the commercial viability and distributive power of using open access models. Their case studies enumerate the advantages of open access, and especially the advantages of derivative works, for a variety of industries – including commercial, cultural and public sector.[5]


  1. Developing Australia's Knowledge and Skills Base

In the digital economy, digital media literacy is an important skill for Australians in the new cultural landscape. An ever increasing number of Internet users now use Web 2.0 technologies to communicate and exchange information for personal, commercial and educational purposes.


According to Alexa[6], 7 out of the most popular 20 web sites in Australia are those which fit into the Web 2.0 category.


In order to best prepare Australia for the digital economy, digital economy skills need to be introduced during the secondary years of schooling. Students need to be equipped with digital media literacy skills in particular, prior to entering the workforce or continuing on to post-secondary education. Wikimedia Australia applauds the efforts of One Laptop Per Child in their endeavours to provide specially designed, open source computing hardware to children disadvantaged by the digital divide in Australia.


In implementing the framework for the digital economy, the government must be cautious of the digital divide which exists between metropolitan and regional Australia. The digital economy presents the unique opportunity for regional Australians to access high quality resources via the Internet within their own communities.


Wikimedia Australia acknowledges the efforts of the New South Wales Department of Education and Training (DET) in bridging the educational divide between rural and metropolitan Australia through its Connected Classrooms Program[7]. The program focuses on the provision of high-speed Internet access, video conference facilities and learning tools to promote resource sharing, reuse and remixing.


The Connected Classroom project has allowed teachers in the most remote areas of the state to now have access to professional learning opportunities they would of either had to travel great distances to attend or miss out on completely.


The benefits to students in remote communities are also clear. Senior secondary students now have access to a wider range of subject choices than they have in the past. In the past, many students had to leave their community and study in a larger centre to be able to study a wide range of subjects. The delivery of these subjects is now enabled via video conferencing, allowing those students to remain in their local


All Australians, regardless of geographical location should have access to the Internet at a speed and price that is comparable to OECD standards. This will not be an easy goal to achieve given the geographical diversity within Australia, but for the digital economy to be successful it must extend to all parts of Australia and be accessible for all Australians. Not one person can be left behind.


What more can industry and other stakeholders do to address concerns about

consumer privacy and online safety?


By teaching digital media literacy during secondary school, Australia will increase its competitiveness in the global digital economy and thereby improve the economic potential of the country. However, equally important is that this would provide access to resources and global networks which students would otherwise discover unequally and potentially in an uninformed or unsafe way. Online safety is increasingly important as more of our culture education and commerce takes place online. Despite calls for tough technical fixes these are social problems and cannot be solved with technological answer. Rather, the best form of safety is through public education especially in schools. The potential pitfalls of digital communication – from sharing financial details to cyber-bullying – need to be discussed in an informed, calm and nuanced manner through education rather than through a reactionary media.


  1. Ensuring Australia’s regulatory framework enables the digital economy

Does Australia’s copyright law unreasonably inhibit the operation of basic and important internet services? If so, what are the nature of such problems and practical consequences? How should these be overcome?


Wikimedia Australia supports the submission of the Australian Libraries Copyright Committee (ALCC) on this topic and agrees that cultural institutions should be supported in the digitisation and provision of their collections online. Furthermore, Wikimedia Australia supports the submission of Electronic Frontiers Australia regarding the presumption of publication.


Whilst there may be no royalty or publication charge required for the use of information or media from government funded organisations, it is the standard practice to charge significant access fees. Whilst this fee structure can be legally continued even when the cultural work itself is out of copyright this practice is used not just to recoup operating costs but also to make a profit of public property which is otherwise not commercial viable.


This practice extends to the requirement to sign usage condition licenses for information which is out of copyright (such as requiring that the information be for personal non-commercial use only). This is in order to maintain effective monopoly on the cultural work and therefore the ability to commercially exploit it. It is the poor public understanding of what copyright expiration means in practice, and the institutional uncertainty surrounding the complexities of copyright, that allows this to continue.


Wikimedia Australia recommends that all organisation receiving public funding for the majority of their operations be requested to allow usage and access to their public domain archives in a cost-recovery manner. This should be supported by training as to the implications and purpose of copyright expiration for those in charge of institutional access to the public.


Should the existing copyright safe harbour scheme for carriage service providers be broadened?


Wikimedia Australia is aware of many instances where a technology enabling organisation (in this case the Wikimedia Foundation) has had legal action taken against it due to content appearing on its project, despite the fact that the Wikimedia Foundation has no input into this content and has acted in good faith. Therefore we are supportive of efforts to ensure that service providers are given safe harbour against legal threats due to the action of their users. In this matter we support the submission of Electronic Frontiers Australia.


  1. Conclusion

We thank the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy for the opportunity to comment on this important area of development.


Wikimedia Australia sees great potential in Australia's ability to engage in the global digital economy and in doing so share our cultural heritage. However in order to do so this cultural heritage needs first to be made available in a way that is usable by others - both in terms of technology and copyright.




  1. Definition of Free Cultural Works, available at http://freedomdefined.org/Definition
  2. Black, R & Atkinson, J (2007), Addressing the Digital Divide in rural Australia, available at http://ausweb.scu.edu.au/aw07/papers/refereed/black/paper.html
  3. OECD Broadband Portal, available at http://www.oecd.org/sti/ict/broadband
  4. Australian Libraries Copyright Committee (2009), Submission on Consultation Paper: Digital Economy Future Directions, p.2
  5. Creative Commons Australia, Building an Australasian Creative Commons, available at http://creativecommons.org.au/casestudiesvol1
  6. Top websites in Australia, available at http://www.alexa.com/site/ds/top_sites?cc=AU&ts_mode=country&lang=none
  7. https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/strat_direction/schools/ccp/aboutccp/index.htm