Many of us supported Barack Obama during the Presidential campaign, not because we agreed with all of his positions but we agreed with many of them that were crucial. We also saw no morally viable alternative. We hope to be able to continue our support, but it will always be offered in a constructive and not unconditional spirit. We appreciate the commitmentto transparency that has characterized the transition period and we have high hopes it will continue once the Obama administration takes office.
It is in this spirit we endorse and pass on these Principles for an Open Transition suggested by some of the internet’s most progressive voices for open government:
Principles for an Open Transition
President-elect Obama has made a clear commitment to changing the way government relates to the People. His campaign was a demonstration of the value in such change, and a glimpse of its potential. His transition team has now taken a crucial step in making the work of the transition legally shareable, demonstrating that the values Obama spoke of are values that will guide his administration.
To further support this commitment to change, and to help make it tangible, we offer three “open transition principles” to guide the transition in its use of the Internet to produce the very best in open government.
No Legal Barrier to Sharing
Content made publicly available in the course of this transition — such as President-elect Obama’s videos, or policy statements posted on the change.gov website — should be freely licensed so that citizens can share, excerpt, remix or otherwise redistribute this content without unnecessary complexity imposed by the law.
Both Senator McCain and President-elect Obama endorsed this principle in the context of presidential debate video rights. The same principle should apply to the transition.
Change.gov now respects this principle. By default, content on that site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license, permitting any use, commercial or noncommercial, so long as attribution is preserved. This freedom is consistent with the values promised by the new administration. Restrictive copyright controls are sometimes necessary to induce valuable creativity; in the context of political speech and public conversation, however, they are only an unnecessary, regulatory hindrance.
The transition’s commitment to this principle is enormously important, and its attention to this matter — so quickly, and in midst of so many pressing issues — deserves praise.
No Technological Barrier to Sharing
A merely legal freedom to share and remix, however, can be thwarted by technological constraints. Content made publicly available should also be freely accessible, not blocked by technological barriers. Citizens should be able to download transition-related content in a way that makes it simple to share, excerpt, remix, or redistribute. This is an essential digital freedom.
For example, while content may be posted on a particular site such as YouTube, because YouTube does not authorize videos on its site to be downloaded, transition-created content should also be made available on a site that does permit downloads. Just as it would be unacceptable for government websites to block the copying-and-pasting of publicly accessible text, making video accessible in a manner that does not allow easy or authorized excerpting and reuse blocks access and engagement.
We would therefore strongly encourage the transition to assure that the material it has licensed freely be practically accessible freely as well. There are a host of services — such as blip.tv — which not only enable users to download freely licensed content, but which also explicitly marks the content with freedom it carries. However else the transition chooses to distribute its content, it should assure that at least one channel maintains this essential digital freedom.
Governments should remain neutral in the marketplace of ideas. Transition-generated content should thus not be made publicly available in a way that unfairly benefits one commercial entity over another, or commercial entities over noncommercial entities.
For example, if video of a press conference is made available in real time to television networks, it should at the same time be made accessible in a standard, universal format for download and sharing. The transition team’s decision to make press conference video available on its website is a step in the right direction. Ultimately, to ensure that new media can cover breaking news on a level playing field with traditional media, it would be advisable to carry press conferences and other live media events in real time on the website.
Similarly, if the transition chooses to make video accessible on YouTube, releasing the same video simultaneously in a standard, universal format will allow other video sites to syndicate that content as well.
Ideally, that format should be nonproprietary. But so long as the content is freely licensed (Principle #1), and free access is secured (Principle #2), transcoding would not be inhibited. The transition would thus not be supporting one platform to the exclusion of others.