A few years ago, I got the chance to hear the one time Chief Executive of Creative Commons, Joi Ito, persuasively argue that open licensing should be considered part of an infrastructural ‘open stack’ for dealing with technology and content.
Just as we had open operating systems, open source software, open formats to allow for files and documents, and open standards for describing such files, we needed a set of open licences to accompany them.
Mr Ito made strong arguments against ‘licence proliferation’ – the outcome of each institution, organisation and government create their own tailored licences for their own content – something that would have the effect of creating barriers to the sophisticated reuse of digital content created on the web, whether it be government information, or educational material or other such documents.
Within the cultural heritage sphere, such a risk is no less apparent. Different funding conditions, different attitudes towards cultural ownership and different notions of public engagement are amongst a suitcase full of factors that all push museums, libraries etc to react in diverse ways about how their users can engage with their digitised content.
Given this, it’s been one of the most significant achievements of the Europeana Foundation to create the Europeana Licensing Framework (pdf).
Part of the framework obliges all providers to Europeana to mark the rights statement associated with their digitised content. 12 statements are described, with graded levels of openness.
These statements provide organisations with enough options to incorporate their own local concerns but are part of a standard set of descriptions that can then be harmonised across Europe.
This all helps tell users what they can be done with the content. Whereas previously digital projects were often silent on this, or hiding behind a stern ‘all rights reserved’ message, users now have a much improved guidance as to whether content can be used, for example, for commercial purposes or not, or whether it can be edited before being republished on the web.
As other blog posts demonstrate there is still much to do. But in insisting that the 34 countries and 2,200 institutions that contribute to the catalyse for open culture in Europe, Europeana has taken giant strides in avoiding the dangers of licence proliferation.