What is the Open Paradigm?


The Open Paradigm is about the shift from a mode of Copyright and protectionism within forms of production into a system which allows for collaboration and sharing.

My brother Jonathan is a Computing Science PhD and the majority of his research has been collaborating towards the production of what are described as ‘manycore’ computer chips. These prototypes can have up to half a billion cores of processing power within them and therefore can potentially change supercomputing possibilities by miniaturising the size of computers needed for these processes.

The project that he is part of is called OpenPiton. The reason that science tends towards an Open Paradigm is quite simple, the more people who are involved in a given innovation project, the more likely it is to either reach the end goal of that project or create new projects in its stead. When a project is run from an Open Paradigm, it allows for other projects to be developed using it as their basis. It allows for troubleshooting and for more active collaboration to happen. One medium to facilitate this that is often used is a website called Github.

When there is not an Open Paradigm, in the world of computer science this usually leads to expensive lawsuits which are simply taken as the cost of doing business. If you follow any of the news around Apple, they are regularly in litigation with other companies over the patenting of e.g. a particular shape of phone bezel.

Pirating is not a type of Open Paradigm, and there will always also be fights between what is perceived to be piracy (which is illegal and therefore has financial and legal penalties such as jail!) and what is the freeing of information that should not legitimately be charged for. Some examples of this we could consider would be the death of the Activist Aaron Schwartz who downloaded large numbers of JSTOR papers from Harvard servers with the intention to share them online and was aggressively pursued by the authorities over this copyright infringement.

There is also an ongoing argument about the legality of the website Internet Archive, which provides digital library access to some copyrighted content. The Nation reports that ‘Penguin Random House, together with fellow megapublishers Hachette, HarperCollins, and Wiley, filed a lawsuit against the Internet Archive alleging “mass copyright infringement.”’

One thing which is important to remember about any commons or Open Paradigm is that it does not negate the possibility of discord between the users of the project or concept. It allows for more collaboration, but the framework that is being produced must also account for argument and even for perceived ‘improper’ use. An Open Paradigm is something which will always produce a community of users, and therefore requires a set of rules for engagement.

Creative Commons is a type of Open Paradigm. Another example I often use is that of Wikipedia. Wikipedia is an open Encyclopaedia, built and maintained by a vast number of people around the world who do so simply for the status of being involved. There is a hierarchy of users within Wikipedia, and some are allowed to edit more than others based on their prior experience.

In my thesis I used Wikipedia as an example of a commons or Open Paradigm in which disagreements have played out in a very public forum. The co-founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, has over time found it quite hard to give up his position as a kind of ‘owner’ of the site and has tried to assert his own position rather than allowing for more horizontal forms of decision making amongst users.

In one particular case, Wales tried to clamp down on the hosting of pornography in the image hosting section of Wikicommons. Russavia, an editor of Wikipedia argued with him that this should be permissible, and in response to Wales’ family-friendly policies, he found a workaround to get back at him. He commissioned a painting to be made of Jimmy Wales, painted by an artist called Pricasso who paints only using his body parts. Russavia then produced a Wikipedia page for Pricasso which embedded the video of the artist producing the painting wearing a pair of pink pleather chaps.

Overall the Open Paradigm is one with almost limitless potential, but situations can play out in unexpected ways and these can often come with social costs and repercussions. At any given time someone may use the project you have produced in an unexpected manner, and you will have to decide how to deal with that situation. By creating a covenant, or a set of rules, for the resource which you are creating within the Open Paradigm, you can set yourself up to manage any inevitable conflicts.

In one of the key texts Neil has set for this week, writer Nathan Tkacz says that ‘openness… implies antagonism’ and that ‘Once an organisation, state or project is labelled open, it becomes difficult to account for the politics (closures) that emerge from within’. To deal with this he states that we must leave the language of openness behind. Perhaps this is a dilemma we can discuss next week in our respective Basho.

Links from this video:

Open Piton: http://parallel.princeton.edu/openpiton/

The Internet’s Own Boy (2014) Watch online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vz06QO3UkQ