Doubling the size of the useable public domain

Shepherdess with a Flock of Sheep
The commons continues to grow

On Tuesday Creative Commons released its 2015 State of the Commons report. The annual report showcases data and trends about the growth and diversity of the commons.

Creative Commons—which is a founding member of COMMUNIA— reported a major milestone this year: over 1.1 billion CC licensed photos, videos, audio tracks, educational materials, research articles, 3D models and more have now been contributed to the shared global commons. More people and institutions than ever before make use of CC’s tools to free up rights-protected content for everybody to re-use.

In addition, CC noted a huge increase in the number of works shared in the public domain using the CC0 Public Domain Dedication and out-of-copyright works marked with the Public Domain Mark. According to the data, the total number of public domain works using these tools in 2014 was about 17.5 million. That number jumped to nearly 35 million in 2015. This means that the size of the CC-marked public domain nearly doubled over the last year. This is in part due to the tools being more widely and adopted by platforms like Europeana and Flickr. Providing clear information about the public domain status of works is crucial so that subsequent creators know they can use those works without any restriction. Continue reading

European People’s Party on copyright reform: or, how to use licenses in 100 creative ways

representation of Last Judgement, with the archangel Michael weighing the souls (or dividing the blessed and the damned)
The EPP group seems to be in favor of preserving the status quo

Copyright reform is one of the most vividly-discussed topics in European Union in last few weeks. After the leak of the European Commission’s communication, the political parties did not wait long to take a stand in the debate. Socialists and Democrats opted to listen instead of presenting their own ideas, and organized a conference on limitations and exceptions, and geoblocking. The event was held in the Parliament on 19th November.  

On the other hand, the European People’s Party (EPP Group), the largest party in the European Parliament, issued a rather uninspiring position paper on copyright. Many wondered whether the document would present a more progressive stance on copyright reform than what we’ve seen so far from the Commission. And the answer is simply: No.

On an ideological level, the document starts with a really promising message and tone. The EPP Group claims that the most important issue is “a balanced approach on copyright” to accommodate needs of creators and consumers alike. We cannot agree more. But after stating this introduction, the EPP focuses only on creators’ rights, and presents their ultimate goal as ensuring the growth of the creative sector, leaving the issue of public domain out. It’s even more alarming that according to the EPP the only way to preserve cultural diversity in Europe is “ensuring a high level of copyright protection”.

In one sentence,  the EPP Group advocates for “a copyright system that promotes investments, the efficient functioning of value chains between authors, creators, performers, producers, publishers, journalists, intermediaries, service providers, consumers and users”. Apart from the obvious fact that culture cannot be reduced to value chains (or value trees for that matter), it is impossible to understand what they mean when they mention the needs of consumers and users, since these stakeholders have not been well represented in considering a balanced copyright reform.

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Why licensing is not always the solution

Last week we took part in a breakfast meeting at the European Parliament under the theme “Why licensing is not always the solution”. The meeting was hosted by MEP Jytte Guteland and co-organised by Communia together with Copyright for Creativity, IFLA, EBLIDA, and LIBER. Our goal was to demonstrate the need for reforms that go beyond licensing-based solutions, and focus in particular on supporting and expanding exceptions and limitations to copyright.

Alek Tarkowski, speaking on behalf of Communia, talked about the importance of exceptions and limitations as one of the building blocks of the Public Domain. As such, they are fundamental for creating breathing spaces within the copyright system, in which public interest goals can be achieved without copyright-related limitations.

The insufficiency of licensing-based solutions was a clear outcome of the “Licenses for Europe” structured debate in 2013. Yet in recent weeks licensing-based solutions have started to resurface in the public debate on copyright. The European Publishers Council pushes for self-regulatory solutions (that is licenses) in its submission to the Digital Single Market consultation. CISAC, in its letter to MEP Reda, goes even further and describes exceptions and limitations as damaging to artists and their families.

It is in this context that we are asking for the European legislator to review the scope of the exceptions and limitations that are currently in force – and which were defined in the InfoSoc Directive almost 15 years ago. We need strong, harmonised, re-imagined exceptions and limitations as a fundamental building block of a copyright system fit for the digital age.

While not the focus of our position paper, free licensing is sometimes seen as a specific case of self-regulation. The success of Creative Commons licensing has been raised in the past as an argument in favor of a focus on licensing-based solutions. We are against such arguments and see free licensing as another founding element of the Public Domain. It is worth reminding in this context the Creative Commons statement in support of copyright reform.

Our position is fully described in our new position paper, “The importance of exceptions and limitations for a balanced copyright policy. ​Licensing alone will not secure user rights”. You can find it, alongside previous statements, in our “Policy Papers” section.

UPDATE: IFLA and Copyright for Creativity have also published posts about the meeting.

Open Definition 2.0 released

This post initially appeared on the Creative Commons blog, republished here under CC BY 4.0

Today Open Knowledge and the Open Definition Advisory Council announced the release of version 2.0 of the Open Definition. The Definition “sets out principles that define openness in relation to data and content,” and is the baseline from which various public licenses are measured. Any content released under an Open Definition-conformant license means that anyone can “freely access, use, modify, and share that content, for any purpose, subject, at most, to requirements that preserve provenance and openness.” The CC BY and CC BY-SA 4.0 licenses are conformant with the Open Definition, as are all previous versions of these licenses (1.0 – 3.0, including jurisdiction ports). The CC0 Public Domain Dedication is also aligned with the Open Definition.

The Open Definition is an important standard that communicates the fundamental legal conditions that make content and data open. One of the most notable updates to version 2.0 is that it separates and clarifies the requirements under which an individual work will be considered open from the conditions under which a license will be considered conformant with the Definition.

Public sector bodies, GLAM institutions, and open data initiatives around the world are looking for recommendation and advice on the best licenses for their policies and projects. It’s helpful to be able to point policymakers and data publishers to a neutral, community-supported definition with a list of approved licenses for sharing content and data (and of course, we think that CC BY, CC BY-SA, and CC0 are some of the best, especially for publicly funded materials). And while we still see that some governments and other institutions are attempting to create their own custom licenses, hopefully the Open Definition 2.0 will help guide these groups into understanding of the benefits to using an existing OD-compliant license. The more that content and data providers use one of these licenses, the more they’ll add to a huge pool of legally reusable and interoperable content for anyone to use and repurpose.

To the extent that new licenses continue to be developed, the Open Definition Advisory Council has been honing a process to assist in evaluating whether licenses meet the Open Definition. Version 2.0 continues to urge potential license stewards to think carefully before attempting to develop their own license, and requires that they understand the common conditions and restrictions that should (or should not) be contained in a new license in order to promote interoperability with existing licenses.

Open Definition version 2.0 was collaboratively and transparently developed with input from experts involved in open access, open culture, open data, open education, open government, open source and wiki communities. Congratulations to Open Knowledge and the Open Definition Advisory Council on this important improvement.

Dozens of organizations tell STM publishers: No new licenses

The keys to an elegant set of open licenses are simplicity and interoperability. CC licenses are widely recognized as the standard in the open access publishing community, but a major trade association recently published a new set of licenses and is urging its members to adopt it. We believe that the new licenses could introduce unnecessary complexity and friction, ultimately hurting the open access community far more than they’d help.

Today, COMMUNIA and 57 organizations from around the world released a joint letter asking the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers to withdraw its model “open access” licenses. The association ostensibly created the licenses to promote the sharing of research in the scientific, technical, and medical communities. But these licenses are confusing, redundant, and incompatible with open access content published under other public licenses. Instead of developing another set of licenses, the signatories urge the STM Association to recommend to its authors existing solutions that will truly promote STM’s stated mission to “ensure that the benefits of scholarly research are reliably and broadly available.” From the letter:

We share a positive vision of enabling the flow of knowledge for the good of all. A vision that encompasses a world in which downstream communicators and curators can use research content in new ways, including creating translations, visualizations, and adaptations for diverse audiences. There is much work to do but the Creative Commons licenses already provide legal tools that are easy to understand, fit for the digital age, machine readable and consistently applied across content platforms.

So, what’s really wrong with the STM licenses? First, and most fundamentally, it is difficult to determine what each license and supplementary license is intended to do and how STM expects them each to be used. The Twelve Points to Make Open Access Licensing Work document attempts to explain its goals, but it is not at all clear how the various legal tools work to meet those objectives.

Second, none of the STM licenses comply with the Open Definition, as they all restrict commercial uses and derivatives to a significant extent. And they ignore the long-running benchmark for Open Access publishing: CC BY. CC BY is used by a majority of Open Access publishers, and is recommended as the optimal license for the publication, distribution, and reuse of scholarly work by the Budapest Open Access Initiative.

Third, the license terms and conditions introduce confusion and uncertainty into the world of open access publishing, a community in which the terminology and concepts utilized in CC’s standardized licenses are fairly well accepted and understood.

Fourth, the STM licenses claim to grant permission to do many things that re-users do not need permission to do, such as describing or linking to the licensed work. In addition, it’s questionable for STM to assume that text and data mining can be regulated by their licenses. Under the Creative Commons 4.0 licenses, a licensor grants the public permission to exercise rights under copyright, neighboring rights, and similar rights closely related to copyright (such as sui generis database rights). And the CC license only applies when at least one of these rights held by the licensor applies to the use made by the licensee. This is important because in some countries, text and data mining are activities covered by an exception or limitation to copyright (such as fair use in the United States), so no permission is needed. Most recently the United Kingdom enacted legislation specifically excepting noncommercial text and data mining from the reach of copyright.

Finally, STM’s “supplementary” licenses, which are intended for use with existing licenses, would only work with CC’s most restrictive license, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (BY-NC-ND). Even then they would have very limited legal effect, since much of what they claim to cover is already permitted by all CC licenses. As a practical matter, these license terms are likely to be very confusing to re-users when used in conjunction with a CC license.

The Creative Commons licenses are the demonstrated global standard for open access publishing. They’re used reliably by open access publishers around the world for sharing hundreds of thousands of research articles. Scholarly publishing presents a massive potential to increase our understanding of science. And creativity always builds on the past, whether it be a musician incorporating samples into a new composition or a cancer researcher re-using data from past experiments in their current work.

But to fully realize innovations in science, technology, and medicine, we need clear, universal legal terms so that a researcher can incorporate information from a variety of sources easily and effectively. The research community can enable these flows of information and promote discoveries by sharing writings, data, and analyses in the public commons. We’ve already built the legal tools to support content sharing. Let’s use them and not reinvent the wheel.

Open Letter regarding the Commission’s stakeholder dialogue on text and data mining

In January Communia was invited to participate in the European Commission’s ‘Licenses for Europe‘ stakeholder dialogue. This stakeholder dialogue is one part of the Commission’s agenda to ‘modernise copyright in the digital economy‘. Communia participated in Working Group 4 on Text and Data Mining for Scientific Research Purposes.

Unfortunately the first meeting of this working group which took place on the 4th of February in Brussels did not live up to the expectations raised by the Commission’s earlier announcement. It quickly became evident that the stakeholder dialogue is based on a flawed assumption (‘more licensing will bring copyright in line with the requirements of the digital economy’) and that the process was designed to prevent a serious discussion about how to unlock the potential of scientific text and data mining.

Given this the participating organisations representing academia, researcher community and civil society (including Communia), have decided to make these concerns public in the form of an open letter to the Commissioners Barnier, Geoghegan-Quinn, Kroes and Vassiliou (re-published at the end of this post). The letter which was published today raises a number of concerns that need to be addressed before the stakeholder dialogue on text and data mining can continue.

Chief among these concerns is the belief that in order to have an open discussion about the reform, possible solutions cannot be limited to licensing. From our perspective text and data mining cannot be solved by re-licensing texts to libraries, researchers or the public. What Europe needs is clarity that text and data mining works that are lawfully available does not require permission by rights holders. A stakeholder dialogue that simply declares this position off limits can hardly be called a dialogue at all. In the case of Public Domain content, there is a risk that a focus upon licensing will lead to unlawful re-licensing of content that is out of copyright.

In addition the whole process needs to become more transparent and needs to include all stakeholders (including academics and the Commissions own Research and Innovation Directorate General, which is currently being limited to attend as an observer).

The open letter has been published in the hope of getting the Commission to change the terms under which the stakeholder dialogue is being conducted. Should this not be the case, Communia and the other organisations that have signed the letter are very likely to step away from the dialogue. As the list of supporting signatories shows this is supported by a growing number of academics who are rightfully concerned about the prospects for conducting data driven research in Europe.Continue reading

Petition in support of a single European Data License

In line with an issue raised in our policy paper on the proposed amendments to PSI Directive there is now a Spanish petition that asks the Europeana Commission to propose a single open data license to be used for Public Sector Information across all EU member states:

Dear Neelie Kroes,

We sincerely admire the courage and innovacion [sic] spirit shown by the European Commission in the revision of the ReUse of Public Sector Information Directive. However, as a member of the Opendata community I think the new Directive will be incomplete without the definition of an Opendata Licence shared by all the Member States Public Administration.

We encourage the European Commission to propose the Member States an Opendata Licence, badly needed to create a ReUse of PSI single market. The alternative to a shared opendata licence in the European Union would be a fragmented market similar to the current intellectual property rights landscape in Europe.

Let’s build a single opendata market with a single opendata licence.

Of course a open data space with fragmented licensing conditions cannot never be as bad as the overall intellectual property rights landscape in Europe, but the overall argument is very solid. If the Commission wants to unlock the potential of open data for all of Europe then the best instrument to do so is a single, standardized open data license for all of Europe.