Project deliverable Open Access

openlaws.eu: Final BOLD business models for stakeholders

Wass, Clemens; Sageder, Christian; Dini, Paolo; van der Graaf

The vision of openlaws.eu is to make access to justice easier. The project is co-funded by the European Union. The challenge is to make this project sustainable in the long run and to make it independent of public funding. The issue is that legal information is a public good and that it is the duty of governments and the EU themselves to inform citizens and business about the law. In a democracy and under the rule of law everybody should know legislation and case law – or at least have access to it. The question is how can a project that is (at least partially) fulfilling public duties be financed without receiving funding or tax income from the EU or its member states? After all, administrations themselves struggle with financing new solutions for citizens, even though they know which services are needed and which ones would be useful for the citizens and the common market as a whole.

In recent years a new category of start-ups has emerged, the so-called social entrepreneurs. There is no generally-accepted definition of social entrepreneurship, but the general idea behind the concept is that “doing good” and “doing well” can and should be combined. Business mechanisms are introduced in order to solve social problems. Just like open data and open innovation, social entrepreneurship is a topic of high interest, also for the European Commission.

Access to justice is a fundamental problem in the European Union. There are over 500 million citizens and over 21 million businesses live, work and operate in 28 jurisdictions, written in 24 official languages. A common market cannot work without a legal system as a basis. For an entrepreneur this means there is a big problem as well as a large potential market. Usually this is a solid basis for a sustainable business model. The entrepreneur creates value and captures part of this value in order to finance the operation of the venture. However, the fact that legal information is supposed to be free leads to considerable restrictions. Still, in the age of the Internet many services and business model innovations have been implemented. In his book “Free”, Chris Anderson describes different ways how “free” can work.

For the research project “openlaws.eu” this means that a “social entrepreneurship” business model can be applied to the project spin-off “openlaws.com”. This spin-off can be built on a social entrepreneurship mind-set and on an online solution that offers free legal information for citizens and businesses that is relevant to their everyday lives. Developing more sophisticated features for experts, researchers, administrations and other power-users will create added value and generate revenues for the spin-off. Additional features will not necessarily all be developed by openlaws.eu or by the project spin-off directly, but may be implemented by third parties, who may know the needs of the users even better than the research openlaws.eu core team or the spin-off team (especially in specific expert domains and in specific legal settings of different jurisdictions). The basis for such third-party applications will be the the aggregated database (the “BOLDbase”).

The openlaws.eu solution that is deployed to users under the EU project funding has reached the level of a working prototype (Technology Readiness Level 6, or “TRL 6”). The strategic business plan foresees additional development activities in a second step, in order to take the research prototype to a fully operational level (TRL 9) and on-going exploitation, is done by the project spin-off “openlaws.com”.

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