Open Future Salon #2. Launch of Paradox of Open: Responses

November 30, 2022


On 30 November we hosted an Open Future Salon to launch Paradox of Open: Responses. This online anthology includes responses to our essay the Paradox of Open, from experts and leaders in the Open Movement.

Our guest speakers at the Salon were Prof. James Boyle (Duke University) and Anna Mazgal (Wikimedia Europe), who are also among the contributors to the publication.


James Boyle started the discussion with a critical response to the Paradox of Open, highlighting how openness isn’t ultimately a general vision of a more utopian society, and pointing to the fact that it can be used for ill as well as good. James also dwelled on two interrelated trends that the Open movement is navigating through. The first is the move towards Open Science, which became an urgent matter during the pandemic. And the second is the move towards more open data for the purpose of AI training (something that we have been investigating with our research on AI_Commons).

Building on his previous arguments, James identified a structural issue for the Open movement to overcome, what he calls in his book the “Cognitive Agoraphobia,” a bias that leads society to see with clarity all of the past and future downsides of open structures, systems, networks, social arrangements, but to be blind to their benefits. Openly licensed content can be used for other goals that its creators might not have envisaged or welcomed. But this agoraphobia leads the movement to misunderestimate the benefits of that same openness, according to James.

Anna Mazgal responded by calling for a redefinition of openness in a way that will make it as impactful, as it has been in the past. For her, the key part of the paradox is how to hold the achievements reached by the broad Open movement while rethinking some of its approaches, and engaging in discussions on what could have been done differently. With the goal of avoiding the unintended consequences that open activities and initiatives generated in the past.

Anna suggested that the movement should start by addressing the growing trend, where user-generated value is locked in proprietary products and services. These lock in public value, and privatize the subsequent profit. Noticing how free knowledge did not free the world – but probably reached its growth limit, Anna pointed to the need to build community-based knowledge: one that cultivates new spaces of self-governance online, where the benefits of decentralization can be well balanced with the ease of connecting people and setting up a proactive agenda of sustainability.

She also highlighted how the Open movement was built around a West-centered perspective, one that didn’t take into account different needs. The West-centrism at the basis of many open projects unintentionally led to the looting of resources of the content of indigenous and other oppressed communities, which didn’t get anything but exploitation in return. The only solution to overcome this imbalance is a well-functioning synesthesia of the principles of openness with other fundamental rights and principles, said Anna.

The conversation was also joined by Derek Slater, who criticized the Paradox of Open essay, as it asserts that copyright wars are (almost) over. Derek warned that the Open movement needs to see copyright as part of a broader, longtime fight – in which the past continues to fight against the future.

The discussion showed once more the urgency for the open movement to reimagine itself, so that it can thrive in the present and future digital environment.