On the Net* and the liberation of information that “wants” to be free** - A call for action by the United Nations, Universities, researchers, and development agencies, with reference primarily to international trade law, Ralph Amissah


* The Net as used here refers primarily to The World Wide Web and The Internet as it has been since the advent of first graphical browsers, which greatly simplified its use. The Net is used to include not only the communication channels it provides but also the connected storage devices. The focus is of the paper is on writing and information repositories, and the meaning applied to “the Net” should be adjusted accordingly. Traditional commercial databases using telnet applications are excluded from our discourse, however, the Net is growing in features and flexibility to allow publication of information to be based on all kinds of more traditional database applications.

** Work paper for the 10th Anniversary Publication of the Law Faculty of the University of Tromsø. First published on the Net - 7th February, 1997. It is intended that further research be done into the subject matter of this paper.

*** Information Technology consultant and lecturer of private law aspects of international trade, at the Law Faculty of the University of Tromsø. Creator of ITL (International Trade Law) formerly called Ananse, which is described briefly within the text of this article.

On the Net and the liberation of information that "wants" to be free - A call for action by the United Nations, Universities, researchers, and development agencies, with reference primarily to international trade law, Ralph Amissah
On the Net* and the liberation of information that “wants” to be free** - A call for action by the United Nations, Universities, researchers, and development agencies, with reference primarily to international trade law, Ralph Amissah


1. Non-commercial motives for publication might include for example: many scholarly writings - for peer review, achieving higher qualification, gaining tenure and critical acclaim; working towards harmonisation of a given area of law; development assistance. These examples are developed further in this paper.

2. The same is not true of commercial use. Massive investments are being put into the Net to make it usable for commercial purposes. Net commerce requires a number of additional elements to be put in place, amongst them payment systems, and encryption. Commercial publishers are aware of the possibilities of the Net, and will play a major role in publishing on it when the additional technology required by them is fully in place.
Developments during the course of writing this paper in relation to user interfaces, suggest that commercial providers now also deliver conent over the Net with similar utility and user friendliness, namely: the announcement by Lexis-Nexis® of its latest offering developed together with Microsoft® (29.01.1997); and the latest version of the Norwegian law database Lovdata®.

3. Prior to writing there was only the oral tradition; The first writing was done largely on immoveables - rock walls, wood. With paper, writing became moveable, but making copies was slow; The printing press made possible the mass production and distribution of texts, which greatly enhanced the spread of higher learning. Adapted from paper “Distance Learning in Cyberspace” Moira J. Simpson presented at the 4th International Conference on Substantive Technology in the Law School and in Practice, University of Montreal, Quebec, 3-6 July 1996.

4. Telnet applications and the traditional commercial databases, are not included in our discourse about the Net.

5. This is not to suggest that it can also be done in a more sophisticated and complicated manner, nor that there may important choices with regard to the most appropriate technologies.

6. After a spider of West African (Ghanaian) folklore, admired for its intelligence and industriousness. In the most popular fable with which Ananse is identified: Ananse collected for himself, all the information/knowledge/wisdom of the world. This Ananse intended should be stored securely in a secret place at a great height, out of reach of all other creatures. The repository of information was broken however, being accidentally dropped from this great height. As a result of this, the information was scattered even further afield than it had been previously, to the greater benefit of all creatures on earth.

7. Others active at the time included Cornell University, Legal Information Institute and Indiana University.
Note: Web is short for World Wide Web or WWW, (it is a lot shorter to say than either).

8. By such other sites as: the United Nations; UNCITRAL; The Research Division of the WTO; The US Library of Congress; The Norwegian State Department; Cornell University Legal Information Institute; Yale University Library, United Nations Scholar's Workstation, and too many other Universities to mention. Excite® provides the following description: “This wonderfully full site explores issues of international trade law, complete with full-text treaties, conventions and laws (including GATT). Compiled by Ralph Amissah and hosted by the University of Tromso, Norway.”

9. The ITL provides information and links related to international trade law. The ITL presents the full texts and where relevant country implementation details of several of the most important conventions and other documents used in International trade. It presents these materials by subject (e.g. free trade, sale of goods, transport, insurance, payment), chronologically, and has information pages on trade related organisations. The ITL also maintains extensive links to other sites related by the subject international trade.

10. The work being conducted at a University institution this has been one of the most publicised objectives to date.

11. This objective was reflected in letters sent to the United Nations early in the project's development, requesting permission to publish their materials. The request (which was granted) stressed the importance of the widest possible dissemination of these materials.

12. This was an important motivation and personal justification behind the growth of presentation of materials beyond the subject matters covered within our syllabus, and is perhaps the strongest single argument as to why these materials should always remain free.

13. Much has been achieved through extensive use of the programming language Perl.

14. Those who are pedantic may point out The Internet is close to running out of address space (TCP/IP addresses). They will also be aware that The Internet Engineering Steering Group is working on the next generation addressing system IPng to rectify the problem before it occurs.

15. As to disadvantages. In the long term it is too early to tell whether there are any, apart from the requirement of a device with which to extract the information it contains. For those who require the restricted flow of information - whether for commercial or other purposes, the technology (if not the law) will develop to protect their need. In the short term there are a few. These include the fact that being new, it may in some cases require adaptation of some traditionally established patterns, and in other must be further developed to fit these patterns; and its volatility - being subject to change without notice, has to be thoughtfully dealt with as do problems of quality control - which as I shall explain is an overstated concern. That replication from the Net is unlimited poses challenges for many, who are dependent on the restricted flow of information .

16. These result from both the digitisation of text and characteristics of the Net.

17. Some of the most useful analogies / metaphors for understanding the Net both in relation to its structure, and development dynamic, can be made in relation to Chaos theory a branch of mathematics and physics. Chaos is not randomness or disorder, it examines non-linear systems in which simple sets of deterministic rules can lead to highly complicated (detailed) results, which cannot be predicted accurately. Much can be meaningfully drawn for example from the analogy between the Net and a fractal image. The similarities between aspects of the Net and Chaos theory - analogical or metaphorical - become more apparent on an examination of the subject. A good introduction is provided by “Chaos” James Gleick. Development of these ideas would requires a separate article.

18. Information can be deleted by individuals who originally put them in place, but equally once placed on the Net, if recongised as being of value prior to such deletion, can be saved by others and re-disseminated, subject to copyright restrictions, of which a it more is noted under section 4.3.

19. Apart from the more obvious connection with “hyperlinks”, this observation is equally true of search engines, of which there will continue to be more, many highly specialised and selective.

20. This is a short data string that characterises/identifies the document. It need not be unique, however: it should be very difficult to generate a document with a matching signature; and any change in the document should (with near certainty) result in a change in its signature. The result being that it is extremely difficult to alter the document and preserve the signature. Digital signatures are an important step in ensuring a reliable reference system.

21. Digital Libraries: The Future: The vision of computers powerful enough to organize and index huge treasure troves of scientific literature using intelligent functions such as “vocabulary switching”-classifying an article that mentions “Unix” under “operating systems” even if the words “operating systems” do not appear in the article-is finally coming to fruition, 32 years after it was first outlined in J.C.R. Licklider's “Libraries of the Future” (1965). Large-scale simulations on the HP Convex Exemplar supercomputer at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications have resulted in generating concept spaces for 10 million journal abstracts across 1,000 subject areas covering all engineering and science disciplines-the largest vocabulary switching computation ever achieved in information science. Future developments will require automatic indexing with scaleable semantics to coordinate searches among the one billion repositories likely in the next century. (Science 17 Jan 1997 p327) Edupage summary.

22. Engineering, via African Virtual University: The African Virtual University, sponsored by the World Bank, is providing engineering students the opportunity to take courses in electrical engineering from a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The professor's stateside course is videotaped and transmitted via satellite to participating institutions in Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The professor is available by telephone three times a week to answer questions that the on-site instructor can't answer, or for which clarification is needed. Eventually, the African Virtual U. will be available in more than 40 countries on the African continent. (Chronicle of Higher Education 17 Jan 97 A24) Edupage summary.

23. Even where drafted primarily by developed nations.

24. Exceptions to which this generalisation does not apply, are to be found within such areas as intellectual property law, and carriage of goods (prior to the Hamburg rules).

25. See e.g. the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2102 (XX).

26. Oragnisations such as UNCITRAL (The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law), Unidroit (International Institute for the Unification of Private Law ), and The Hague Convention on Private International law have been active in promoting the harmonisation of private international law. UNCITRAL has been particularly successful in the promulgation of its texts because of its broad membership and wide participation in the preparation of its texts.
The International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (Unidroit) is an independent intergovernmental organisation with its seat in Rome. Its purpose is to examine ways of harmonising and co-ordinating the private law of States and of groups of States, and to prepare gradually for the adoption by the various States of uniform rules of private law. Unidroit's objective, as defined in its Statute and as indicated by its full name, is the unification of private law.
The Hague Conference on Private International Law is an intergovernmental organisation the purpose of which is “to work for the progressive unification of the rules of private international law” (Statute, Article 1)

27. Arbitration: of current interest and to be found on the Net, eg.: the South African Law Commission “Discussion Paper 69, Project 94: Draft International Arbitration Act for South Africa” which is based on the UNCITRAL Model Law open for comments until 31 March 1997 (will be highly influential in Africa); England, Arbitration Act 1996, not based on the UNCITRAL model law, drafted with careful consideration of modern arbitration practice (influential within the Commonwealth).

28. The CISG has been hailed as “the centrepiece of international trade law”, Clive Schmitthoff, Export Trade: The Law and Practice of International Trade, 9th ed. (Stevens & Sons, London: 1990) p. 252. As “the first truly international sales law to be accepted by broad segments of the international community of nations”, Id. at 18. As “the most significant piece of substantive contract legislation in effect at the international level” Financial Times (London: September 21, 1993). And as “the biggest success so far achieved by intergovernmental attempts at unification of commercial laws.” Sevón, Leif. “Obligations of the buyer under the Vienna convention on the international sale of goods”. Tidskrift utgiven av Juridiska föreningen i Finland, nr. 126, 5-6 (1990) pp. 327-343. “It is beyond doubt that the UN Sales convention will be the predominant instrument governing the rights and obligations of sellers and buyers in the international sale of goods”. For this collection of quotes see “A Uniform Commercial Code for International Sales? We have it now”. Stewart F. Hancock, Jr. New York State Bar Journal, January 1995.

29. Examples: The United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods 1980, Article 7; The Unidroit Principles of International Commercial Contracts, 1994, Article 1.6; The Principles of European Contract Law, (1996 draft of the final text) Article 1.106; The United Nations Convention on the Carriage of Goods by Sea (The Hamburg Rules) 1978, Article 3; The United Nations Convention on the Limitation Period in the International Sale of Goods 1974 and 1978, Article 7.

30. J. Honnold, “Uniform words and uniform applications. Uniform Words and Uniform Application: The 1980 Sales Convention and International Juridical Practice” / J.O. Honnold. Einheitliches Kaufrecht und nationales Obligationenrecht. Referate Diskussionen der Fachtagung. am 16/17-2-1987. Hrsg. von P. Schlechtriem. Baden-Baden, Nomos, 1987. p. 115-147, at p. 127-128.

31. A suggestion was made that it could be expected that the information be made available through UN Depository Libraries. See Samson (Canada & Quebec)

32. The technology did not the exist in a form that would make his idea practicable, nor did its user-base exist at that time.

33. Suggestions are derived through generalisation and some modification from the “AustLII Technology and politics of Law on the Net”, Graham Greenleaf, Andrew Mowbray, and Geoffrey King. Paper prepared for the 4th International Conference on Substantive Technology in the Law School and in Practice, University of Montreal, Quebec, 3-6 July 1996.

34. It is not possible in this text to enter a discourse on the subject of copyright, beyond mention of the fact that copyright law holds good for the Net. However copyright notices are provided as examples. Two alternative simple provisions for the individual author:
“Copyright [Author's Name]. This document may be freely reproduced.”;
“Copyright [Author's Name]. Reproduction and distribution are permissible for non-profit purposes only. No substantive changes of any kind are to be made to this document without the author's written consent.”
States have more complicated interests. Reproduced here are the relevant provisions of British “CROWN Copyright” permission for free publication. It is suggested that organisations with professed harmonisation of law objectives should be at least as liberal in their approach to relevant materials:
“2.1 Reproduction without permission or charge
2.1.1 For the following specified types of Crown material, English language reproduction in any media, other than the uses described at para 4.3, is permitted world wide, without prior permission and free of charge.
* Acts of Parliament, Statutory Instruments and Statutory Rules and Orders.
* Press Releases from Departments, Agencies or other Crown bodies. While these are obviously for unrestricted use at time of issue, they may also be freely reproduced thereafter, singly or in compilation (but NOT for the sole purpose of providing a commercial Press Release service per se).
2.1.2 Such reproduction is subject to the following conditions being complied with:
(i) reproduction takes place within a value-added context; i.e. where the Official text has had value added to it by compilation with other related text, analysis, commentary, annotation, indexing or cross-referencing (this may be taken as covering both commercially published and in-house databases);
(ii) that an acknowledgement of Crown copyright is featured as well as a statement of the source. The copyright acknowledgement will generally be in the following form: Reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO;
(iii) the material is reproduced accurately and in a fashion and context which is in no way misleading as to the intended meaning and application of the material;
(iv) specific permission should be sought for translations or adaptations.
2.2 Reproduction for which prior permission is necessary
2.2.1 Prior permission must be sought, and fees and royalties may be charged, for the reproduction of any Crown material not specified at section 2.1.1 above.
2.2.2 The Copyright Unit may waive or reduce fees in respect of applications for use of Crown material for professional, technical or scientific purposes where profit is not a main purpose of reproduction. Consideration of reduction or remission of fees will also be given to reproduction in works of scholarship, in the journals of learned societies and similar non-profit-making bodies, for educational purposes, and in other cases where the need for the fullest dissemination of official information is paramount and outweighs any other considerations. ...
6.3 In general, all Crown and Parliamentary copyrights are reserved and, notwithstanding particular privileges allowed in this letter, will be exercised in appropriate cases.” CO(P) 48/1022 (23 September 1996)

35. To name a few: The Legal Information Institute, Cornell University; The Australian Legal Information Institute; Find Law at Stanford University; Project Argonaut at Hieros Gamos; Law Journal Extra; The Canadian Governments Legal texts; the Zambian Legal Information Institute.

36. Not all problems currently fussed about are equal, eg. citation in the long run is not a problem; nor need texts that migrate their location on the Net be.

SiSU Spine (object numbering & object search) 2022