What is Open Licensing?

As new forms of publication and scholarship begin to take hold, the academic world is examining standard forms of licensing and rights management and finding them lacking. While current copyright and intellectual property laws focus on restricting use of materials, authors are beginning to explore new models that center on enabling use while still protecting the academic value of a publication. Some rights are still reserved, but some are proactively licensed at publication time to encourage re-use. These approaches make it clear which rights are licensed for various uses, removing the barrier of copyright and smoothing the way for others to access and use one’s work. One such approach is that taken by Creative Commons, an organization that supplies easy-to-understand, “some rights reserved” licenses for creative work. Authors simply review the list of rights they can grant or restrict, make their choice, and receive a link to a written license that spells out how their work may be used. The licenses work within current copyright laws but clearly state how a work may be used. Copyleft is another alternative license; often used in open source software development and describes how a work can be used and also governs how derivative works are to be licensed as well. Models like these are beginning to gain acceptance among artists, photographers, and musicians; scholarly papers and reports are increasingly released under alternative licenses. Some organizations, such as the New Media Consortium, have made it a policy to release all their work under licenses that facilitate sharing and reuse.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • Providing open licenses to museum collections is like granting them an Augmented Reality, so to speak. Museum collections can change from being objects that are passively looked at to tools that can be actively used for things that museums never imagined but which can turn out to create value both for users, museums - and hopefully the creators of the original artworks. - Merete.Sanderhoff Merete.Sanderhoff Oct 27, 2014
  • I quite agree with Merete that providing open licenses to museum collections is vital to encouraging use and reuse of collections. Our museum has been discussing for some time how best to tackle the issue across a multidisplinary collection encompassing humanities, indigenous cultures (with additional cultural restrictions or concerns on open release), and sciences. I have noticed a trend to 'release what you can' as there are serious and unavoidable issues with in copyright material, orphan works and managing the representations of 3D works where some new copyright can be said to subsist. There is the sense that there is a growing momentum towards open release of a) collections metadata, b) high quality digital versions of public domain material and, for us, c) images and other media created by our museum and where we can legitimately claim copyright (and thus can put the images out with whatever license we like). [- ewallis ewallis Nov 1, 2014]
  • There is also some movement towards providing software as open source (see examples under point 4.) [- ewallis ewallis Nov 1, 2014]

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • One thing is creators themselves opting for open licenses instead of traditional copyright licensing of their work. Another is that there are interesting perspectives in museums collaborating with artists or artists' estates to implement open licenses (like Creative Commons licenses) as an alternative to ordinary copyright on modern and contemporary art collections. In the wake of the many releases of out-of-copyright collections into the Public Domain (which is marvellous!) there is a real risk that the still-in-copyright parts of museum collections fall under the radar in the flourishing remix culture where you can share, remix and create new art based on what's already been created by others. An important issue to tackle is therefore: How do museums ensure that these energies also propagate to modern and contemporary collections without infringing on artists' rights and livelihoods? - Merete.Sanderhoff Merete.Sanderhoff Oct 27, 2014
  • I think that the theme that's missing from the above description is that museums simply can't openly license all their content because of copyright law, as Merete alluded to above. Museums struggle with a massive 'messy middle' of works likely to be in copyright by virtue of their likely creation date but for where a copyright holder can't be traced (orphan works) or where there is no way of even working out who might potentially hold copyright (e.g. we have extensive collections of trade literature such as technical manuals for machinery or products made by companies that no longer exist) and things where copyright status is unclear (e.g. letters and diaries never written for publication). Copyright law in these is confusing at best, and variable internationally. However, there are some changes underway that may make the situation clearer, in some jurisdictions at least. For example, see https://gigaom.com/2014/10/30/new-orphan-works-rule-in-uk-makes-millions-of-creative-works-available-for-public-display/ [- ewallis ewallis Nov 1, 2014]
  • Also, adding in open source licensing for tools and technologies is an important aspect of opening up contemporary museum ingenuity. [- ewallis ewallis Nov 1, 2014]
  • Separating open content and open licensing seems somewhat artificial and it may be better to recombine them. [- ewallis ewallis Nov 1, 2014]

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • That culture heritage in its entire depth and width may enter the remix culture of the Internet, making modern and contemporary art more visible and suitable for creative and innovative reuse, like we are currently witnessing with art in the Public Domain. - Merete.Sanderhoff Merete.Sanderhoff Oct 27, 2014
  • I agree with Merete, and would add that this is also important for social sciences and humanities collections, sciences and natural history collections where creative reuse and remixing also provides rich opportunities outside museums [- ewallis ewallis Nov 1, 2014]

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

  • Researchers within the European Commission are working to develop a new policy framework for a more complex 'cultural commons' that enables different levels of rights for different content. - Merete.Sanderhoff Merete.Sanderhoff Oct 27, 2014
  • A few examples of open source code released by museums include Museum Victoria's code for our apps, our gallery control system (Nodel) and for our collections sites released on GitHub https://github.com/museumvictoria [- ewallis ewallis Nov 1, 2014]
  • Also TourML for mobile tours http://www.tapintomuseums.org/ [- ewallis ewallis Nov 1, 2014]

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