of the American Society for Information Science and Technology       Vol. 27, No. 4              April / May 2001


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Information Policy: From the Local to the Global

by Gail Hodge

Information policies are developed and enacted at all geopolitical levels – local, national, regional and international. All levels impact the way that people disseminate, collect, use and redistribute information. However, are the policies synchronized across geopolitical levels? Are information policy regimes more difficult to administer in the global electronic information environment? Can multiple levels continue to exist in a global information economy?

These were the questions behind the session sponsored by the ASIST Special Interest Groups in Information Policy (SIG/IFP) and International Information Issues (SIG/III.) After presentations by experts working at the various levels and with different types of policies, these questions were posed to the panel of speakers and discussed by the audience.

Before directly looking at these questions, let's review the information policies at various levels as represented in the individual presentations.

Local and National Policies

Connecting the Disconnected: Telecenters and Other Ways Toward Empowerment in the "South" – Dr. Michel Menou, City University of London

"Cyberites" are generally rich, young, educated and skilled. Those who are already connected have all the virtues and benefits of being connected, while others do not. The income gap is increasing between the richest 20% and the poorest 20% by almost a 100:1 ratio. While it is hard for developed countries to understand, the cyberworld is less than 10% of the world's population. Of the world's population 80% rely solely on analog communications, and the remaining 10% have virtually no mass communications available at all. The issues for the unconnected are relatively simple – they include dignity, justice, self-reliance, food, education, health and income. Dr. Menou noted that dignity will never be provided by technology but by the way in which it is used.

Given this situation, telecenters are being put to strategic use in many developing countries. A telecenter is a social endeavor that provides a physical space with appropriate communications capabilities at affordable prices. Dr. Menou described the creation of telecommunication centers in developing areas and the impact they are having on local empowerment. (See also "The Gyandoot Digital Library Intranet" by Aashish Sharma and William Yurcik in this issue of the Bulletin. – Editor) While these telecenters may be instigated by policies at the regional or national level, the implementation of a telecenter results in localized information policies.

The emphasis when developing a telecenter is on appropriate technologies. What is appropriate for a particular location may be a telephone, a fax or an e-mail connection. The approach may be basic voice and data transmission via traditional telephone or wireless or the provision of some high bandwidth access points in support of applications such as telemedicine. Support for multiple languages is important, but not for simple tasks such as e-mail. Not all telecenters need all these services, but there is a need to consider multiple communication approaches.  For example, in India, telecommunications are combined with more traditional communications resources; the Internet is used as the source for information that is then broadcast on the local radio station.

The telecenters have a major impact on local information policies, because the aim of the center is to support the development objectives of the particular community. The local community is an active participant in the development of the telecenter. Because the centers are political and social tools, the impact is also felt in economic development and educational policies. However, often politicians use these activities as a political faηade; what really is done in the background is not what is publicized.

The Pastocalles Community in Ecuador has successfully used a telecenter to mount lobbying and campaign efforts to make Pastocalles a national reserve, to organize a farmers strike and to campaign against a multinational flower company. The telecenter is a marketing tool, providing Internet access so that the community can market its indigenous handicrafts and eco-tourism. The telecenter provides access to educational tools by connecting local teachers to training materials and curricula and by connecting local schools with schools in Peru. 

While many benefits can be gained through properly organized telecenters, there are major challenges in the development of telecenters. Access and connectivity are major problems in rural areas. The high costs of communications and the telecommunication infrastructure also create problems. While one might have hoped that the private sector would play a role in providing access, commercial Internet Service Providers are not interested in building alliances in order to serve marginalized areas where there is little hope of making money in the future. Just as in rural areas of the United States, there is little commercial interest in extending the Internet backbone to rural areas in less developed countries.

The physical location for the telecenter depends on the community. It may be in a church, temple or school. The place is generally selected for its openness to all members of the community, regardless of age, gender or race. The community must appropriate the telecenter as its own.

A key technology issue when implementing a telecenter is power. The Indian telecenters run on solar batteries. However, many of the alternative energy sources that could be used are not in the best interest of those in power who have supported the development of the telecenter programs. These individuals or groups may have a vested interest in promoting more expensive power sources.

Perhaps the most significant challenge is cultural. While social and political empowerment are key goals, the implementers must forward these causes in the context of the existing local culture, social mores and political structure.

In order for social development to be achieved, there must be a political and social environment that accepts change, that encourages people's awareness of the world around them and outside the local area and that promotes imagination. Effective grass roots organizations exhibiting leadership and continuity are necessary to the success of a telecenter. Successful telecenters build on the beginnings of this type of environment and can encourage the further development of it. However, developing countries are extremely volatile, and therefore, policies and situations change dramatically and quickly. For example, at one point Mexico was ahead of European countries. Mexico had national networks in most areas, especially in support of science and technology, but the change in government leadership has reduced this.

Cost recovery and sustainability are required as parts of each telecenter's development plan, but these goals are difficult to achieve. A variety of funding mechanisms is used. In El Salvador, a portion of the money from privatizing the telecoms is being used to support the special network needed for the telecenters for the next 10 years.

While there is significant benefit to a local community to having a single telecenter, there is a wider benefit if there are multiple centers in a network. First, many of these geographical areas to be serviced by telecenters are very large, requiring more than one center to make them physically accessible by the people to be served. In addition, networking allows telecenters to share scarce resources, such as high bandwidth.

In addition to location and technology, a major component of the telecenter is the content. The content must be by and for the local community. In some cases, information from sister communities is valuable. Even the national information needs to be adapted for local use and understanding. External information can be included only if it is appropriate, answers practical problems, helps in emergencies and crises, is trusted by the community and is socially acceptable. For example, food prices need to be converted to the appropriate currency and understood in the local community context. In El Salvador for example, about 30% of the resources are devoted to the development of local content.

The telecenter policies must be established in the context of the local cultures and traditions if you want to try to effect social and political change, because otherwise you are not going to win. The telecenter concept is facing increasingly adverse reactions, especially in male-dominated communities because women are not excluded from using the centers. Often this means replicating the telecenters – one for women and one for men. The same situation may apply to other segregated minority groups. Another local concern is that the young people have access to information that is considered unacceptable in their community or family situations.

Telecenters have been established in Latin America (including Ecuador, Columbia and Venezuela), and there are networks in other countries, such as India. It is currently very difficult to determine how many telecenters there are, because some are networks of networks. Every month new national telecenter programs are announced.

The first meeting of regional telecenters occurred in March 31, 2000. This meeting occurred between telecenters in Latin American and the Caribbean. The meeting resulted in the Papallacta Manifesto


which calls for the following specific telecommunication policy changes to support access:

  • Inclusion of Internet in universal service
  • Legitimacy of special conditions and discounts for social purposes
  • Advanced and broadband services available to rural communities
  • Special conditions of licensing
  • Reserve spectrum for rural telecoms
  • Democratic participation in policy making.

This is a call for a major change in the information and telecommunication policies of many of these countries that will go far to support the future development of telecenters.

National and Regional Policies

The EU Database Directive: The Response of the International Scientific Community - Dr. John Rumble, International CODATA

CODATA (www.codata.org) is an interdisciplinary scientific committee of the International Council for Science (www.icsu.org). CODATA's emphasis is on data management problems common to different scientific disciplines. CODATA believes that the accumulation and aggregation of facts into a multidisciplinary research environment will become increasingly important. Unfortunately, scientists do not generally think about issues, such as metadata, information management and dissemination, across the disciplines. 

CODATA seeks to reduce the barriers to the use of data by improving the quality and accessibility of data through international cooperation and increased awareness of the importance of data activities within the scientific community. CODATA promotes the development of key data sets, establishes format standards and promotes the presentation of data in the primary literature. It seeks to increase the funding for scientific data management, analysis and dissemination.

Given CODATA's history of data sharing, it has been particularly concerned about database protection legislation, which would provide sui generis protection to previously non-copyrightable databases. There are several factors that have increased the emphasis on database protection by database owners – the digital environment, the U.S. Supreme Court Feist Decision and the European Union's (EU) Database Directive.

First, in the digital environment the media, economics and stakeholders are different. Applicable case law appears to be different, and new laws are trying to carve different regimes. In many cases, it has become all about money as individuals, companies and countries have begun to treat digital information as a commodity.

The Feist Decision stated that copyright protection requires a modicum of intellectual effort; "sweat of the brow" (the economic investment) does not qualify a work for copyright protection. This served as a wake-up call for many in the database industry. Producers of databases, particularly directories, determined that copyright would probably not give sufficient protection to their investments, and efforts began to create a new regime of protection.

The EU directive was issued in March 1996. It gives database owners sui generis rights to prevent extraction and/or reutilization of the whole or a substantial part of the contents of the database based on "sweat of the brow" or economic investments in the development of the database. There is no requirement for intellectual input or creativity as required for copyright protection. It also provides for 15+ years of protection after the database is first made publicly available. The protection can be renewed after a new investment has been made, which may result in a virtually unending term of protection. Exemptions for fair use for research and education are provided for in the Directive, but these exemptions are optional and are left up to each EU country's national legislation.

Within the data community several fears have been raised. First, concerns have been raised that EU member states will not consistently pass fair use exemptions, leading practices to focus on the lowest common denominator of no exemptions. Secondly, there is concern that database owners will engage in predatory pricing which will inhibit the free flow of scientific data. There is also concern that database owners will not allow any extraction of data, which may cause researchers to avoid use of relevant data for innovative research or result in legal activities that would further increase the price of doing research.

The EU parliamentary process requires that comparable country-level legislation be enacted following the passage of a Directive. Most of the EU countries have implemented the national legislation as directed by the regional level. However, complementary legislation does not mean completely homogeneous legislation. There are certain optional areas, including exemptions for fair use for education and research, that can differ significantly. The result is that the database legislation to comply with the directive is more restrictive than copyright protection, with many countries not providing fair use exemptions.

While it is a regional directive, the EU Directive could have a major impact on the way data is treated worldwide. First the EU now numbers some 18 countries, many of which are large data producers, publishers and major contributors to data activities in meteorology, physics and health. Secondly, the Directive requires that a non-EU country must have comparable national legislation in order to receive protection in the EU countries. Already, there have been several significant attempts to pass database protection legislation in the United States. Significant concerns have been raised that U.S. legislation may be even more restrictive than that of the EU.

Prior to adoption of the EU Directive, there was a significant lack of involvement on the part of the EU scientific and library communities. Because of the lack of scientific involvement, an ICSU-CODATA Workshop on the EU Directive was held in Baveno, Italy in October 2000. The specific intent was to stimulate the scientific community in Europe to understand the issues and to be prepared when the review process takes place. The discussions sought to have them develop their own ideas about the importance of the directive to their disciplines and their countries. The goal was to involve the science and legal figures, including the European science academies.

Approximately 50 people representing 10 organizations participated in the discussion. The facts regarding the Directive appeared to be very eye-opening particularly to the scientific community. The community at large, both scientific and library, are still not very aware of the Directive.

These reactions are significant since the Directive is scheduled for review in 2001/2002. The questions that will be asked during this review are: Has the current Directive caused any problems? Has science been hindered? Are there warning signs on the horizon? What kinds of laws have the EU member countries passed? Is fair use being maintained or not?

Anticipating this review, those at the CODATA workshop concluded that no problems have been experienced to date because of the Directive. However, that may be a result of the very slow passage of member state legislation. (Even though the directive was passed in 1996, the majority of the countries did not pass complementary legislation until 1999-2000. Therefore, there is little history on which to base any discussion of the impacts.) The Directive has not resulted in a homogeneous environment within Europe. Some national implementations are more permissive than copyright, while most are not. One of the major areas of concern is the lack of consistency on fair use. Fair use may now be different from country to country, and this problem may proliferate in the future. There have been two lawsuits under the Directive. Both involved newspapers and were settled out of court, resulting in no case law. None of the suits were related to scientific information.

The ICSU-CODATA meeting recommended that the national academies of science and other European scientific bodies petition the EU for mandatory fair use provisions in the national legislation. While there are some who want to overthrow the legislation in total, this outcome is unlikely. An adjustment that requires very minor wording requiring fair use provisions, would be in line with a typical directive revision and would be, therefore, more likely to be accepted.

Scientific, library and information communities must be vigilant. It is important to put forth positive statements, instead of just negative ones. Therefore, CODATA has published "Access to Databases: A Set of Principles for Science in the Internet Era"


which it hopes will help to inform the discussions in a positive way.

Regional and International Policies

Report on the Intellectual Property Symposium of the Americas - Dr. Shelly Warwick, Queens College

Dr. Warwick reported on the Intellectual Property Symposium of the Americas, sponsored by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on September 11-12, 2000, by examining the agenda and the major themes of the conference. The stated purpose of the meeting was an "opportunity for high ranking government officials and members of the business and intellectual property communities of the Western Hemisphere to discuss and formulate an agenda for cooperation in the critical area of intellectual property enforcement." The conference was really about trade, based on the desire for enforcement of the 1996 WIPO Intellectual Property Treaties and the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement.

The arrangements included plenary sessions that everyone attended. Then the attendees broke up into roundtable discussions. Panelists represented 29 countries, with a wide variety of developed and developing countries, both large and small. Ambassador Richard Fisher, the U.S. Trade Representative, moderated the discussions. Outside attendance was limited to 150 people, and applications for attendance had to be made in writing.

The discussions centered on e-commerce and cyberspace, with a decidedly commercial orientation. It appeared that the United States was trying to "stuff the genie back into the bottle." Now that the treaties have been signed, how will these agreements be enforced?

Representatives from the United States stated the importance of enforcement. Other countries said they are doing their best and want to remain U.S. trading partners. Even those countries that have different laws and different social mores concerning intellectual property rights and protections were conciliatory in their approach because of the trade implications.

Several interesting themes emerged. Developing countries, such as Jamaica, were more interested in intellectual property because of the music industry. Music is replacing capital as the major generator of wealth. Representatives of the Latin American Recording Industry identified the need for education as well as enforcement, citing a general lack of understanding among consumers, enforcement agencies, rights holders and the judiciary. The Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), the largest trade association for software manufacturers worldwide, identified the need for business model solutions and certified software managers for countries and companies. SIIA has coined a new term, softlifting, which is the unauthorized installation of more copies of software than the license provides.

Branding in cyberspace was discussed. Do brands still work in this environment? Pharmaceutical companies in particular are concerned about protecting the names of drugs so they can't be used as domain names by cybersquatters. Differences in domain name registration rules from country to country impact the way that protection can be granted. For example, Brazil allows only citizens to register domain names and registration is limited to 10 domain names per taxpayer. This policy is difficult for companies with multiple trademarks to protect.

The special needs of multinational companies were mentioned. For example, Merck wants more protection for names of commercial pharmaceutical products and pharmaceutical test data. The latter would make producing generic drug products more expensive to develop. Injunctive relief is not easy to gain across borders.

Dr. Warwick noted that equally interesting were the areas that were not included in the agenda. There was no discussion of the legitimate rights and expectations of users of intellectual property and how these users would be impacted by strict enforcement. There was no discussion of fair use or whether strict enforcement would serve the public good in all countries. The social function of intellectual property was ignored. The economic power of valuable trading partners such as the United States overshadowed any local information policy concerns.

Information Policies and the Globalization of Information

As the summaries have shown, the speakers gave excellent examples of a variety of information policies – telecommunications policies, intellectual property rights and database protection. They spoke at a variety of levels – or the intersection of those levels – from the local implementations of telecenters supported by country legislation and policy to the EU's regional directive flowing back to national legislation, to the impact of trade agreements on intellectual property within the Americas – and perhaps beyond. After the presentations, the session returned to the original questions concerning the globalization of the information economy and its impact on information policy development.

Are the policies synchronized across geopolitical levels?

The panel agreed that the policies are definitely at odds. There is a constant tension in many countries between policies regarding privacy and information dissemination – between the citizen's right to know and national security – between the commercial interests and the rights of individual citizens – between the common good and the rights of an individual. While some of these tensions are basic and the strength is actually in the achieving of a balance as with copyright protection and fair use, this is becoming much more difficult in the global economy created by the Internet and other forces.

Are information policy regimes more difficult to administer in the global electronic information environment?

Yes, administration is made more difficult for several reasons, including technological, legal and cultural.

In the past, information policies and legislation were more easily monitored than in the digital environment. Not only are rights holders concerned about the ease with which pirating and large-scale copying and alteration can occur, but also the law is very difficult to enforce, particularly downstream use. In the print environment, the first-sale doctrine was applicable, because of the lack of technology to make wholesale copying feasible by individual members of the public. In the case of libraries, where parts of books and journals were copied, there was a knowledgeable intermediary who could alert (whether verbally, through training, or by notes posted around the copier) how fair use should apply to the individual.

From the legal standpoint, it is difficult to apply rules regarding geographic points of law in the global digital environment. It is often impossible to tell where the user requesting access to material is located (and therefore under what country or local regime the user is operating). It is also difficult to tell where the material is located because of reflectors and mirror sites, URLs without country domains, etc.

Difficulties also arise because of the varying cultures. While many countries may have signed international policy treaties, the principles espoused in these treaties are not necessarily reflected in the behavior and the common culture of the people. Because fair use is not well understood in the United States, let alone in other countries that do not have fair use provisions, it is no wonder that there is an ever-growing heterogeneity of approach.

Can multiple levels continue to exist in a global information economy?

As the Internet and e-commerce bring increasingly difficult questions for commerce and society in general, each geopolitical unit is reacting by establishing its own policies and legislation. Attempts to harmonize have resulted in compromises that continue to support the historic differences in fair use, contract law, authors rights, etc.

It is ironic that in the midst of the goal of harmonization as expressed in many treaties, regional directives and international conventions, the international scene seems to be more fragmented then ever. The tension among the various geopolitical levels of information policy appears to be growing.

Will this tension continue or will equilibrium be achieved?

The panel also noted one common movement – the move away from an intellectual property regime toward an information property regime. The emphasis is less on the creative aspects of a work than on its economic aspects. Both Dr. Rumble and Dr. Warwick noted the impact that information as a valuable commodity is having on the way that all levels of policy makers are weighing and viewing the decisions that they make. The more lucrative entertainment industry (both film and audio) is having a major impact on the way that textual materials (including scholarly materials) are being viewed. While some have called for a differentiation in protection regimes between scholarly materials and popular materials, it is doubtful that these distinctions could ever be clear enough to be implemented or enforced.

All the speakers noted that at all levels there was tension between the information "haves" and the "have-nots." While many policies, including digital divide policies in the United States and Europe, have espoused equality with regard to Internet access, equipment and education, the issues related to content continue. While the Internet has the possibility of acting as a great democratizer, the achievement of such a goal is challenged by the statistics shared by Dr. Menou and the insights gained by Dr. Warwick. As the information becomes more economically valuable, there may be more impetus to "lock" up the key information until someone pays for it. If equilibrium is to be achieved, it will likely come from market forces, rather than from harmonization based on legal or social consensus. As Dr. Rumble noted, the information economy is changing, and if we do not address these changes, we will be forced to live with the results.

Gail Hodge is chair of ASIST SIG/Information Policy. She is affiliated with Information International Associates, Inc., and can be reached by e-mail at Gailhodge@aol.com.

Dr. Michel Menou is professor, School of Informatics, Department of Information Science, City University of London. He can be reached by e-mail at Michel.Menou@wanadoo.fr.

Dr. John Rumble is president, International CODATA, National Institute for Standards and Technology. He can be reached by e-mail at JRumble@nist.gov .

Dr. Shelly Warwick, assistant professor, Graduate School of Library and Information Science,

Queens College, is program chair of ASIST SIG/Information Policy. She can be reached by e-mail at Swarwick@sprynet.com.

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