Project deliverable Open Access

openlaws.eu: Socio-Economic Framework for BOLD Stakeholders

Dini, Paolo; van der Graaf, Shenja; Passani, Antonella

Researcher(s)
Gudamuz, Andres; Marsden, Chris; Wass, Clemens; Salamanca, Olivia; van Eechoud, Mireille

The report develops a wide-ranging analysis of the challenges and opportunities for the socio- economic sustainability of the provision of Open Data (OD), Public Sector Information (PSI) and, in particular, of Big Open Legal Data (BOLD). The analysis is carried out in the context of a multi- stakeholder community of private businesses, public administrations (PAs) hosting raw Legal Open Data (LOD) or BOLD databases of value-added services built on LOD, private or not-for-profit companies (and/or third sector non-profit charities) that may also host BOLD databases, and citizens. The private businesses can be further subdivided into software companies (especially but not exclusively small and medium-sized enterprises or SMEs), legal publishers, and law firms.

The analysis starts with a discussion of technical platforms that host an increasing number of social phenomena based on an ever more pervasive participatory culture or ‘connectivity culture’. The sociality that emerges in these networks is found to be a significant source of their sustainability in the presence of the vanishing marginal cost in the production, reproduction, and distribution of digitized information, while raising questions about issues such as value and privacy. A discussion of the software open source movement, and of the broader category of Commons-based peer production is presented: this helps locate the OpenLaws sustainability issues within a broader framework where the roles of PAs, enterprises, and especially users are quickly changing. This analysis is complemented by an economic anthropology characterization of Economy as formed by four domains of value: market, capital, social relationships, and commons. As these insights, although helpful, still fall short of providing a quantifiable way to translate social value into monetizable economic value, the report extends the analysis to a deeper level of enquiry, namely the ontology of money itself. A sociological perspective on monetary theory provides useful insights into mutual credit systems that have existed at different times in history and at very different economic scales, and enables their characterization as non-capitalist markets. The theoretical analysis is complemented with empirical evidence from existing mutual credit systems, from existing networks of lawyers and their sustainability models, and from several examples from the ‘sharing economy’. These are examined and discussed specifically with the OpenLaws community-based crowdsourcing approach in mind.

Straddling monetized and free service provision, such as ‘freemium’ models, is one strategy that seems to work reasonably well among private-sector stakeholders. But when access to PSI and OD in the form of legislative and case history databases becomes the core of the necessarily free knowledge offering, it becomes increasingly difficult for private-sector companies and third-sector legal entities to achieve a sustainable model for its provision. Although PAs are meant to rely on tax revenue, in times of austerity this can be challenging. Further, the need to account for and protect social values such as democratic participation in the overall sustainability model becomes more apparent or, better, urgent. The need to arrive at a constructive balance between the social and the economic spheres within the context of the OpenLaws project means that market imperatives overlap democratic participation imperatives. Furthermore, since the strategy adopted by OpenLaws is to rely on crowdsourcing and open innovation dynamics, the success of the BOLD initiative needs to contend also with community-building imperatives.

The report argues that it is impossible to meet these sometimes conflicting sets of imperatives solely with a neoclassical/neoliberal economic perspective. The sustainability model cannot just be ‘economic’, but must be ‘socio-economic’. Further, it must leave room for a ‘political’ dimension in order to prepare the ground for the governance framework for the BOLD OpenLaws community of stakeholders. The socio-economic framework proposed in the final chapter, although based on a radical innovation in the form of a complementary currency supporting a non-capitalist market, is compatible with the capitalist economy and with profit-based business models. The coexistence of such radically different economic and monetary models cannot help but make the general public more aware of the fact that money does not have to be taken for granted, that it is subject to design like any other (social) technology, and that different designs carry different consequences for the economy and society. This greater awareness of the interdependence of the social and economic dimensions of society goes hand-in-hand with the objective of OpenLaws to improve access to legal data in the interest of greater democratic participation and sustainability.

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