Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Remembering the public domain for open data

John Wilbanks, On the Erosion of the Public Domain, John Wilbanks' blog, May 10, 2008.  Excerpt:

...The public domain is not an “unlicensed commons”. The public domain does not equal the BSD. It is not a licensing option.

It is the natural legal state of data.

It is a damn shame that we no longer think of the public domain as an option that is attractive. It’s a sign of the victory of the content holders that the free licensing movements work against that something without a license – something that is truly free, not just just free “as in” – is somehow thought to be worse. We’ve bought into their games if we allow the public domain to be defined as the BSD. The idea of the public domain has been subjected to continuous erosion thanks to both the big content companies and our own movements, to the point where we think freedom only comes in a contract.

The public domain is not contractually constructed. It just is. It cannot be made more free, only less free. And if we start a culture of licensing and enclosing the public domain (stuff that is actually already free, like the human genome) in the name of “freedom” we’re playing a dangerous game....

Speaking as someone who got into this two years ago convinced SA [ShareAlike] was the way for data, this stuff is complicated....

I don’t know the answers. But I do know that if we start to frame “public domain data v. viral data” as “BSD v. GPL” that we’ve already lost the debate, because we’ll have bought into the erosion of the public domain that led to the need for commons licensing in the first place.

PS:  For a longer version of John's defense of the public domain for open data, as opposed to open licenses for open data, see the Science Commons Protocol for Implementing Open Access Data or my blog post on it from December 2007.