When I began my research on open data I had no in-depth knowledge of what it entailed. Open Definition describes open data as a piece of content or data open to anyone and is free to use, re-use and redistribute it. It gave Wikipedia as an example of open data. Wikipedia is open because its code, Mediawiki is free and open source software that is made available. When you think of Wikipedia you we are constantly warned against it but it is one of the important sources of open data we have. Just because Wikipedia has a liberal license which allows anyone to copy, use and change or even improve the site, all because the source code is presented to anyone who wishes to use it. This is a huge feat for open data. Unlike Wikipedia, Google Maps is not an example of open data. Yes it is currently free service but the code is owed and the data in provides in copyrighted, leaving users do little else but look at it.
While government initiatives opened up governmental information to the public through the medium of websites such as data.gov and opendata.ie, there were also three detrimental acts to come with this development. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), was set up as an implementation to tackle online attacks of copyrighted intellectual property and forged goods. This act would allow law enforcement to decline access to entire online domains if infringement took place on website or even personal blogs. While SOPA was put in place to protect intellectual property, many opposed arguing that SOPA is a liability to free speech and originality and as a consequence internet communities would face destruction.
The 18th January 2012 saw a major protest against SOPA. While many people would not have been aware of it before that day, SOPA could destroy the internet. It was only on this day that we really got a glimpse of just how important open data is. Wikipedia along with several thousand other website constructed a service blackout to raise awareness of the issues we face. The internet has become such a forsaken thing that we constantly abuse and take for granted but how far would we go to protect it?
Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) is yet addition power given to copyright holders to control access to ‘rogue’ websites. These ‘rogue’ website are classed as devoted to infringement. Infringement through PIPA is defined as the delivery of illegal goods and copies. It is feared that PIPA could damage internet integrity and again, our freedom of speech. In the limelight more recently is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). ACTA is a global treaty to launch international standards for intellectual property rights and there implementation. In an attempt to combat counterfeit goods and generic medicines and infringement via the internet ACTA was founded. It is said to be a response to the increase of counterfeit goods and pirated works entering trade on a global scale. Many people feel that this agreement would not only affect their freedom of expression but also intrude on their privacy.
The open data debate is ever growing and of increasing concern to more and more people. Personally all three acts seem like the exact same thing reworded to sound different. When the act has not been past they come along with the same thing under a new title and pitch that, all to speed the process and get their plans in motion. Clay Shirky (above) believes that these acts are not achievable but will cause a huge stir along the way. He says that SOPA and PIPA are nuclear and they are an attempt to go anywhere in the world and censor content. He believes that we, the people/users, are the ones that will be punished and it will be a case of guilty until proven innocent. He argues that PIPA and SOPA are ways to get us back on the couch, consuming, not producing and certainly not sharing. When these three acts where pitch and talked through, they forgot to think on the benefits open data provides. Open data is not just a mere fight for the sake of it, it is essential to innovation, self-empowerment, and growth of knowledge. It allows creativity to flourish and in the case of government open data it improves the efficiency of government services, it adds more value to the research conducted as it can be used on a wide-spread level and most importantly it allows democratic control. Open data allows us to see where our money goes and how it is being spent by the government. “A woman in Denmark built findtoilet.dk, which showed all the Danish public toilets, so that people she knew with bladder problems can now trust themselves to go out more again”, (Open Data Handbook), this is a prime example of the further good that open data allows, government research made into open data for the benefit of ordinary, everyday people with common problems.
Tim Berners-Lee gave a talk on the importance of open data and how far it has come in a year. He recognised that without open data, mash-ups would not be possible and he informs us just how useful these mash-ups can be. He said that the open data movement is only getting started. It is a very positive video and makes you realise how much the world has opened up with the help of open data and mash-ups. Tim asks that we put data onto the web (government, community and scientific data) on the basis that it will be used by other people to do wonderful things in ways that you never could have imagined. Community generated raw material has allowed something like OpenStreetMap to take off. OpenStreetMap gives the ordinary Joe Soap the control to obtain, edit and save raw geodata to the OpenStreetMap database. Now anyone who looked at a street map and thought it could be better could do something about it. He gives the example of Haiti in which the OpenStreetMap was utilised to its full potential. People watching the tragic disaster and wanted to help built a real-time map showing blocked roads, damaged buildings and things that were needed.
I believe that the majority of people, after reading this and researching open data for themselves, will agree that open data is very beneficial to everyone and it removes the limits put on furthering our knowledge. I hope that I have shed a light on the pressing issues open data faces and have widened your understanding of the topic. Take a look at these open websites: