Open Movement

Making sense of the challenges and defining new strategies

For over twenty years, the open movement has strived for a more democratic digital future. It has been a driving force behind numerous initiatives contributing to the democratization of knowledge, information, and culture. However, in today’s highly concentrated digital environment, openness serves as both a challenge to concentrations of power and its enabler – this is the Paradox of Open.

Through our work with a wide range of organizations and open movement activists, we are defining actionable strategies for the movement that address the challenges posed by the Paradox of Open.

Our work in this area is guided by the goal of preserving the achievements of the last two decades while leveraging the benefits of Digital Commons.


In his recent blogpost, "Licenses are Not Proxies for Openness in AI Models," Mike Weinberg argues that the openness of AI models cannot be reduced to just their licensing.

Weinberg references his response to the consultation by the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration on "open foundational models":
[the response] focused on a comparatively narrow issue: whether or not it makes sense to use licenses as an easy way to test for openness in the context of AI models. I argued that it does not, at least not right now.
Weinberg suggests that licensing can function as a proxy for openness when the thing being licensed is discrete, and the licenses used are mature – that is, broadly considered as meeting a standard of openness. Neither of the two conditions is met in the space of AI development.

In the European Union, the newly adopted AI Act does exactly what Weinberg warns against: defines open-source AI using the proxy of a free license as "software and data, including models, released under a free and open-source licence." As a result, it fails to consider other factors crucial to securing meaningful openness in the space of AI — such as the data transparency standard.

In our work, we also advocate for a more nuanced definition of sharing as not just a matter of open licensing. We have been referring to the concept of the commons as one that allows sharing to be defined in terms broader than just licensing.

Currently, there is little agreement among advocates of open licensing, practitioners, and collections' stewards on this issue. Weinberg writes that
any definition of open should require a more complex analysis than simply looking at a license.

Weinberg frames his arguments in terms of the complexity and maturity of a given field of open and argues that openness is more than just licensing in the more complex or less mature spaces. Our research shows that the need for more robust definitions of openness emerges all across the fields of open.

According to Weinberg, more complex forms of openness are more commonly seen in hardware than software. And for him AI models are "much more like open hardware than open software." The full response is worth reading for the full argument on lessons learned from establishing a standard of openness for hardware — as Mike Weinberg is both a leading legal expert and advocate of open hardware.

The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) was launched twenty-two years ago, on February 14, 2002. The BOAI arose from a small meeting of researchers organized a few months earlier by the Open Society Foundations. The BOAI offered the first definition of Open Access and launched a worldwide campaign for Open Access to all new peer-reviewed research.

> The BOAI is a statement of principle, a statement of strategy, and a statement of commitment.

After twenty years it is even more clear how important the initiative was for the Open Access movement. And also as an example that was followed in other fields of open.

The initiative was crucial, as it provided a strategy for attaining Open Access that was collectively designed and endorsed. The same approach was later taken by such initiatives as the Cape Town Open Education Declaration and the Public Domain Manifesto. Documents like these are the strategic backbone of open activism.

However, initiatives like this are not set in stone — quite the opposite, updated recommendations were released on the 10th, 15th, and 20th anniversary. At Open Future, we've been arguing that there is a need to review movement strategies, especially those established twenty years ago. We are sometimes critical that challenges like the Paradox of Open are not being addressed and that strategies are not being adapted to new realities.

The Budapest Open Access Initiative shows that our activism can keep up with the rapidly changing world.  That movement strategies can be kept alive and established through strong, participatory decision-making.

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