The Future of Open

August 16, 2010

The SCL Annual Policy Forum enters its 5th year in 2010. The aim of each Policy Forum is to bring together academics, practitioners and other key players with interests in IT law to engage in a cross-disciplinary dialogue about future developments in IT law.  It has always sought to facilitate ‘blue sky’ thinking, to allow challenges to orthodoxy, and to provide a forum for idea exchanges that is largely unavailable elsewhere.  It allows the year’s Chair to pose a provocative legal theme, and then to invite a core of speakers from a range of backgrounds to take that theme and run with it. 

The theme for this year’s Policy Forum, ‘The Future of ‘Open’, came about as a result of my being invited to give a presentation at a conference in 2009 on ‘The Open Cloud’.  While doing some background reading, prior to deciding whether to accept the invitation, it became obvious to me that there were at least three different interpretations of what the ‘open cloud’ might mean.  One interpretation focused on developments in the cloud computing environment aimed at achieving security, interoperability, portability between platforms, simple governance and proper measurement.  Another focused on the role of F/OSS in the cloud environment – often posed in the form of a question such as ‘will the cloud kill F/OSS’.  The third interpretation related to the ‘cultural environment of the cloud’ as evoked by Charles Leadbeater’s Cloud Culture: the global future of cultural relations, published by the British Council.

I was struck by how ‘open’ had, to invoke an old cliché, apparently ‘become the new black’, a must-have buzz word attached to all manner of IT developments.  As I looked across a range of IT law activities, I had been involved in, or was aware of –  ‘open source software’,’open access publishing’, ‘open information’, ‘open rights’ and ‘open law’, to name just a few – there seemed to be a compulsion to seek somehow to incorporate that word ‘open’.  And I began to wonder whether, to extend the fashion metaphor, the ‘open’ phenomenon was in danger of becoming over-extended and over-exposed.  Even in those longstanding ‘opens’, such as open source software, was the rhetoric was now running far ahead of the reality?  Were technological, economic and cultural shifts threatening to sideline what once seemed like game-changing developments?  Having caught the legal and public imagination in the Noughties, was the concept of ‘open’ now in decline?

These musings developed into the agenda for this year’s Policy Forum, which seeks to explore what is meant by ‘open’ across a range of contexts, how the law interacts with, facilitates or hinders ‘openness’, and how attendees see both traditional and new forms of ‘open’ developing in the future. Sessions include discussion of open networks (often described as ‘net neutrality’), free and open source software, open culture (eg remixes and mash-ups), open information (eg uses of FOI and Wikileaks), open lives (eg blogging and social networking), and open lawyering (eg outsourcing and virtual law firms).   

There are a limited number of bookable places at the 5th Annual Policy Forum. It costs £400 plus VAT for SCL members to attend both days (£600 plus VAT for non-members). The full event carries 9.5 hours of CPD. 

Andrew Charlesworth is Reader in IT and Law and Director, Centre for IT and Law, School of Law/Department of Computer Science at the University of Bristol.