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openlaws.eu: BOLD socio-economic and governance framework

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

This document describes the main principles of a governance framework for Big Open Legal Data (BOLD) platforms such as OpenLaws. The document starts with an acknowledgment that every social space, including online communities such as the one that will emerge around OpenLaws, needs a set of norms and a governance process able to ensure its social sustainability, i.e. the survival of a healthy community. At the same time, the governance framework should be accompanied by an economic sustainability model.

On the one hand, the need for regulation is based on the concept of “rule of law” which is understood as the idea that there is a set of rules that must be obeyed by those governed by it. The concept of regulation is further developed along the four dimensions proposed by Lawrence Lessig, i.e. regulation by Law, Market, Norms, and Architecture. For the purposes of this report we take the Law and Architecture dimensions as largely given, and focus mainly on Social Norms and Market considerations. On the other hand, the governance framework can also be analysed and discussed from the point of view of what is being governed, i.e. the various forms of value, for which the Ostrom economic goods framework is useful. In particular, an important element guiding this perspective is the understanding of legal open data (OD) or Public Sector Information (PSI) as public good and of legal data enrichment as commons.

Open data as public good are already protected by national and European norms that make them freely available to all citizens. The first layer of data enrichment is needed in order to make the legal OD understandable and usable, but does not constitute a service per se (so it is not commercial by definition). This layer is a commons that needs to be protected by free- riding and overuse. Commons, in fact, are resources (physical or otherwise) shared by a group of people; they are available for the use of all, but have a certain degree of subtractability so that their overuse by one person can limit others’ ability to use the good for the same aim. For this reasons commons (or common-pool resources) need a careful participative management and governance. The discussion of this topic, presented in Chapter 2, is guided by the work of Ostrom (1990) who, by analysing different examples of commons, extrapolated 7 design principles that need to be followed in order to ensure their successful and sustainable management.

Chapter 3 uses the 7 Ostrom principles for defining the OpenLaws governance framework. OpenLaws will provide free access to the basic legal information originally provided as OD plus some additional functionalities (creation of folders, sharing of folders, creation of groups, etc.) for all users. For other stakeholders such as lawyers, Legal Information Institutes (LIIs), Legal Charities, and legal SMEs, advanced functionalities are provided upon payment, following a Freemium model. In this way the platform will develop two parallel and loosely interconnected communities: a public one of basic users with free access and a professional one. The platform should have a system of identity verification in order to guarantee to the basic users the trustworthiness of the Freemium users and to ensure the visibility to all of the reputation of the Freemium users.

All users will be able to produce new pieces of knowledge, and each user should be able to select the licence system they prefer. The Creative Commons licence should be, in any case, incentivised in order to support the growth of the content offered by the platform. A certain degree of self-organisation should be allowed within the platform by creating self-governing 

bodies to support and complement the work of the commercial platform owner (OpenLaws.com). This is particularly important in order to ensure the quality of the contribution and the right balance between willingness to increase the information available and the quality of the information provided. In fact, in order to be vital and sustainable the community has to enlarge the knowledge base of the platform, but this needs to be done without damaging the original body of knowledge (Big Open Legal Data, BOLD). Too much information, not fully interconnected with the original knowledge base or of scarce quality, would result in the death of the community as new users will not find what they need and will turn away from OpenLaws. Following this line of thinking, i.e. the need to engage users in the management of the platform, a monitoring system for member behaviour, sanctions, and dispute resolution systems should be put in place.

Chapter 4 looks farther into the future to the possibility of connecting the Market and Social Norms aspects of regulation or, equivalently, the economic value and the social values created by the OpenLaws community more intimately integrated. This appears to be possible through a so-called mutual credit system. The chapter outlines the principles of operation of such a system, its rationale, and provides a schematic view of the kinds of interactions and transactions it could support.

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