Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What is a Public Service Publisher?

Broadcasters have public service obligations.  Should publishers?  The UK Office of Communications (OFCOM) is looking into the question.  Saul Albert looked into the OFCOM inquiry on behalf of the Open Knowledge Foundation.  Here's an excerpt from his report (January 26, 2007):

...I decided to accept an invitation to the riverside HQ of OFCOM, the UK’s independent regulatory body for television, radio, telcoms and wireless, to participate in a discussion about what the UK’s putative ‘Public Service Publisher’ (PSP) should be.

It seems that OFCOM recently noticed the Internet and decided that some kind of public service intervention was necessary beyond BBC online’s existing offering. Projecting a budget of 100M, they embarked on a consultation process led by Andrew Chitty of ‘convergent media’ production company Illumina Ltd.

The room at OFCOM’s London Bridge offices was populated with execs from Yahoo, Google, and various Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as well as institutional players like the British Film Institute and the BBC. I think I was the only person there not representing a large corporation of some sort.  I worked out what my civic duty was going to be when the ‘creative’ director at Wanadoo suggested that the PSP’s 100M budget should be given to the telcos and ISPs for their wonderful PSP-like job of carrying peer to peer network traffic, and nobody batted an eyelid. I spent the rest of the day desperately clawing the discussion back to what the ‘public service’ bit could mean.

While reading through the consultation website and skimming the full consultation document, I was pleasantly surprised to see that heavily watered-down mention was made of non-restrictive IP models:

“…it is unlikely that restrictive IP models will maximise public value in a way which is consistent with the overarching thesis of the paper, namely that new forms of public value can be found in the participatory media environment which are distinct from those in the traditional world of linear broadcasting.” ...

Surely it’s in the public interest to address the fact that the infrastructure we’re all using to do business, publish, and socialise online is dangerously similar to Cinema’s vertically integrated Hollywood-centric oligopolies?  Clearly, the PSP is going to do absolutely nothing...

My response to the PSP consultation, emailed to the organisers soon afterwards doesn’t yet appear on the empty ‘responses’ section of the site. For the record, this is what I thought the PSP could do about this at the time:

  • Researching and advising on best practice in metadata, exchange and archiving standards.
  • Researching and advising on best practice in legal preservation and maintenance of publically funded IPR.
  • Producing and maintaining high quality free educational materials for groups and individuals in how to publish their video/audio/text online and archive it well enough for it not to contribute to the uncatalogued backlog.
  • Investing in open source software and shared IPR projects that are consistent with and facilitate the above goals.
  • Research and develop systems for traversing, searching and making inferences from data generated by the aggregation of all this published material, and make that data, and those queries available via open APIs....

OFCOM’s PSP consultation closes on the 23rd March 2007 - so if you want to see a useful PSP, please make sure you get in your response before then!