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Recently, together with Jeanette Hofmann, I have been discussing a research proposal on sharing cultures. In this context, we were asking ourselves whether the notion of “sharing” has shifted in the digital realm. Sharing knowledge is different from sharing a cake. George Bernard Shaw is ascribed the following quote, illustrating this difference:

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”

This leads to the conventional wisdom that sharing immaterial goods is different from material goods. In the digital age, more and more goods can be easily shared in form of perfect copies. And even when the economic value of a digital good might depreciate if it is shared freely, sharing can at the same time generate indirect returns (for examples see Anderson 2009). Consequently, authors such as Lawrence Lessig paint the picture of a “hybrid” or “sharing economy“, which they deem to be beneficial for all parties involved. Prerequisite for such a sharing economy to work is a sharing culture, which includes practices such as giving attribution or using open formats and licenses. Read the rest of this entry »

You use it whenever you need it. You want it to be clean. You sit down, you stand, or you squat. You use paper, or maybe water. You flush… and whatever your business there may have been, it disappears. You leave, you wash your hands. So simple… you take it for granted.

If you’re lucky.

Any traveler to another continent soon learns that the toilet is a highly cultural thing. Sanitation is a cultural practice. Sometimes even a trip from one country to another is enough to cause mild shock and awe – for instance, how every German holiday-maker in France feels when they (re-)discover the French squat toilet. Or how a French traveler feels when discovering the German “Flachspüler“. Or the Irish, when voting on the Lisbon Treaty. Toilets are deeply culturally embedded, so much that Slavoj Žižek has a special theory about their differences and their effects on national mindsets, politics, and philosophical traditions.

Westerners have a lot to learn

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Two weeks ago the First Berlin Symposium on Internet and Society took place in Berlin, celebrating the opening of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society. Specifically for this event I had prepared a paper on “The Digital Public Domain: Relevance and Regulation” (SSRN), which was presented and then commented upon by Juan Carlos de Martin and Felix Stalder. Both provided very thoughtful criticsm and extensions to the paper, introducing an overall discussion that was very constructive and focused on the issues tackled in the paper.

While I have not managed to blog about the workshop so far, Anne-Catherine Lorrain from the COMMUNIA Association has now provided an extensive summary. There  she documents why mapping the public domain empirically is a worthwhile exercise:

The empirical mapping of the public domain should help identifying more precisely the economic relevance of the public domain. The regulation framework applying to the public domain can produce some direct effects on the economy, and more particularly on innovation. As a matter of fact, businesses can suffer genuine legal uncertainty when it comes to identify what is protected by IP rights and what is not. The positive economic impact of content being in the public domain is sometimes already acknowledged in practice. For instance, some patent rights holders can decide to donate patentable inventions in order to create a pre-competitive market. Like the “adjustment process” (Schumpeter), the utility of the public domain to improve competition should be demonstrated, although the question about how this aspect should be echoed within legislation remains.

Besides, her summary features the pink sky over Berlin towards the end of the workshop:

Pink sunset on the Spree behind the Public Domain session speakers from left to right Martin Kretschmer, Leonhard Dobusch, Felix Stadler, Juan Carlos De Martin; picture: Anne-Catherine Lorrain

 I can only thank Anne-Catherine very much for providing this great summary and endorse reading the whole transcript.


Last week Google announced the “introduction of usage limits to the maps API“, which effectively represents a first attempt to monetize the service beyond location-based advertisements:

If you find that your site does exceed the usage limits each day you can opt to pay for your excess usage by enabling billing on your APIs Console project. We will then start billing excess usage to your credit card when we begin enforcing the usage limits in early 2012.

Logo of the OpenStreetMap project

While some see Microsoft’s bing map as profiting from this decision, the real winner of Google’s decision to restrict access to the maps API might be the OpenStreetMap project (see also the very informative Wikipedia entry). Similar to Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap is created collaboratively by a globally dispersed community of volunteers. Consequently, the self-description reads “The Free Wiki World Map”.

Since both rendered images and the vector dataset are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, commercial usage of the project’s maps is explicitly granted. For example, already in 2010 bing maps started to integrate an OpenStreetMap layer into its services.

And more commercial application does not seem to crowd out the motivation of volunteers to contribute; quite on the contrary – and different to Wikipedia with its recently stagnating editor numbers – the OpenStreetMap community is still growing fast, reaching the number of 400.000 contributors in May this year.


The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
November 2011

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All texts on governance across borders are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany License.