I’ve recently returned from a trip to Bulgaria and was struck by a country in economic and technological transition. The apartment blocks and factories, remnants of an industrial Communist era now past, clashed sharply with the modest stone-and-wood houses built by occupants who might herd goats or raise roosters in the garden. Overlaid atop this architectural tug-of-war across the countryside (no doubt simmering since the Soviet Army invaded in 1944) are signs of technological infrastructure and Western prosperity.
The billboards at Sofia airport for Hewlett-Packard and our other favourite technology companies were my first evidence that the country is growing both with through technology tools and with the innovation funds that their creator companies bring. The technology sector already accounts for 10% of Bulgaria’s GDP and the country is proud of it.
“There is no doubt the ‘old’ EU member states, for all their experience, could learn from what we have been doing in Bulgaria in terms of economic growth and competitiveness,” said Sergei Stanishev, Bulgarian prime minister, last week. Stanishev spoke in a pre-Spring EU summit in Brussels.
Stanishev’s pride wasn’t just talk — I was particularly impressed with the Bansko ski resort, boasting new Doppelmayr ski lifts and the RFID-based Skidata passes that allowed us skiers through a turnstile and straight onto the lift. Far more efficient than checking paper passes by hand! Bansko seems to have been planned out with technology and efficiency in mind.
Stanishev did admit that intellectual property protections (among other things) remain a challenge for Bulgaria to become a competitor in the world technology market. Yesterday, Bulgaria’s EU Commissioner Meglena Kuneva made effort towards laying down IP policy for the country. Weighing in on the international iTunes music debate in her capacity as European Commissioner for Consumers, Kuneva said, “[I do not find it] proper that a music CD can be played on all trademarks of players, but the music sold in iTunes can be played only on an iPod.” Taking this leadership role for the EU in such a high-stakes IP struggle could be significant for Bulgaria. Watch this space.
It appears that this beautiful country, which joined the EU at the beginning of this year, has every intention of becoming a major player in the tech economy. Today’s news announces that they have just been slated to receive €7 billion in EU funding over the next 7 years — I’m quite keen to see what they accomplish with it.
10 days ago, Jimmy Wales at the Wikimedia Foundation issued the world the following challenge:
Dream big. Imagine there existed a budget of $100 million to purchase
copyrights to be made available under a free license. What would you
like to see purchased and released under a free license? Photos libraries? textbooks? newspaper archives? Be bold, be specific, be general, brainstorm, have fun with it.
The main list of suggestions has been growing and is listed here. (Slashdot, Digg, Metafilter, Meneame, and Heise all began lists of their own to support the effort, though they’ve been combined into the main list.)
Suggestions thus far include a range of topics: textbooks, dictionaries (in particular the OED), satellite imagery and geodata, technology standards like mp3 and PDF, encyclopedias, academic and research journals, news archives and first-person historical artifacts, sheet music, pictures on the web, Microsoft software and online translators. (There was also lots of talk about drug formulations, though those are patent protected rather than copyrighted.)
A few that struck me (all direct quotes):
- Some photos taken by Ernesto “Che” Guevara when he travelled around the world (at least one photo from each country he visited) or all photos depicting him.
- Photos of endangered or recently extinct species
- Legal documents: West Publishing holds the copyrights on the legal reporters (volumes of caselaw) that contain the published opinions of state and federal courts in the United States. (In some cases, West can’t claim copyright to the opinions themselves, but does claim copyright to the pagination system and the headnotes that to some extent are the basis of the most common forms of legal citation). Making this information publicly available could make it easier for people who do not have easy or affordable access to Westlaw or Lexis/Nexis to research legal points.
- Classified Information: I suppose the CIA probably wouldn’t overtly start handing over juicy secrets for cash, but there are some private intelligence agencies that might have some pretty interesting dirt that could be made public.
- Something like a chunk of the video archive of the BBC might be nice to have. (This is already in progress… see here)
- Make wikipedia easier for elderly people and people with age related disabilities to partake in. Think of all the knowledge that the elderly contain ‘because they were there’ that they cant share because of an obfuscated geek designed interface prevents them.
- The song “Happy Birthday to you…” is still under active copyright which is why you will never hear it on TV, Radio, etc. If there is any cash spare this would be a good one to purchase.
- Medical quality photographs and diagrams of the human body and its organs etc both in health and disease (all too often we have to fall back on a single image from Gray’s Anatomy when any article could benefit from more than one diagram and photographs with different focus/perspectives)
- All the archives about the murder of JFK
Is there anything you’d add? $100 million free a lot of information, knowledge and processes to the world. What do we need to know? The site is still open!