Talis licence for Open Data

I used to think Open Data was simple – “facts are not copyrightable” and everything follows. No I am wiser and realise that data are complex and need a lot of attention – fast. So it’s very valuable to see groups who are addressing the problem. Here is Paul Miller of Talis (who convened a WWW2007 session on Open Data)

18:11 24/09/2007, Paul Miller, Nodalities
In the world of creative works, notions espoused by Lawrence Lessig and others over a number of years are becoming increasingly well understood. A Creative Commons license, for example, is recognised as giving the holder of rights an ability to prospectively grant certain permissions rather than limit use of their work by expecting all comers to request these permissions, again and again. Those rights are not cast aside, removing all opportunities to protect your work, your name, or your potential revenue stream. Rather, you are provided with a means to explicitly declare that your work may be used and reused by others in certain ways without their needing to request permission. Any other use is not forbidden; those uses must simply be negotiated in the ‘normal’ way… a normal way that also applied to those uses covered by Creative Commons licenses before the advent of those licenses.
Creative Commons licenses are an extension of copyright law, as enshrined in the legal frameworks of various jurisdictions internationally. As such, it doesn’t really work terribly well for a lot of (scientific, business, whatever) data… but the absence of anything better has led people to try slapping Creative Commons licenses of various types on data that they wish to share. It will be interesting to see what happens, the first time one of those licenses needs to be upheld via a court!
At Talis, we have an interest in seeing large bodies of structured data available for use. Through the Talis Platform, we offer one means whereby such data may be stored, used, aggregated and mined, although we clearly recognise that similar data may very well also be required in similar contexts.
Recognising that contributors of such data need to be reassured as to the uses to which we – and others – may put their hard work, we spent some time a couple of years ago drafting something then called the Talis Community Licence. This draft licence is based upon protections enshrined in European Law, and has been used ‘in anger’ for a while to cover contributions of millions of records to one particular application on the Talis Platform.
There has been plenty of talk around ‘open data‘ here on Nodalities, and on our sister blog Panlibus. See, for example, this recent post from Rob Styles. There were also fascinating discussions at the WWW2007 conference earlier this year.
Despite interest in open (or ‘linked‘) data, licenses to provide protection (and, of course, to explicitly encourage reuse) are few and far between. Amongst zealous early adopters, there does seem to be a tendency to either (mis)use a Creative Commons license, to say nothing whatsoever, or to cast their data into the public domain. None of these strategies are fit for application to business-critical data.
Building upon our original work on the TCL, we recently provided funding to lawyers Jordan Hatcher and Charlotte Waelde. They were tasked with validating the principles behind the license, developing an effective expression of those principles that could be applied beyond the database-aware shores of Europe, and working with us to identify a suitable home in which this new licence could be hosted, nurtured, and carried forward for the benefit of stakeholders far outside Talis.
Today, Jordan posted the latest draft of this license (now going by the name ‘Open Data Commons‘), some rationale, and pointers to various ways in which he – and we – are seeking input and further validation.
As my colleague Rob (again!) has argued, curators of data need an option on the permissions continuum between free-for-all and locked down. The Open Data Commons, née Talis Community Licence, offers that option.
Take a look. Think about how you would use it. Consider what sort of administrative framework you would want behind such a license. Join the conversation.

PMR:  First of all many thanks to funding legal work on Open Data. Whatever else we have to remain within the legal framework or we court disaster at a later stage.
There will not be a single approach to this anymore than there is a single Open Source licence. Motivations vary and, even more importantly, data is more varied than software. I know of two other efforts, Science Commons  – (in Cambridge US) springing from CC, and the The Open Knowledge Foundation set up by the tireless Rufus Pollock (in Cambridge UK) who invited me to be on the board. We honour this by using the OKFN “Open Data” on
our own CrystalEye. I expect that people will choose different licences to emphasize different policies. (For example I currently use Artistic as my software licence as I don’t want the name JUMBO to be misused for derivative works which are not compliant. I might well use BSD elsewhere. and so on).
As Paul says, please converse.

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One Response to Talis licence for Open Data

  1. Paul Miller says:

    Peter – thanks for the attention, and the comments! 🙂
    I would like to stress, though, that neither OKF nor CC are ‘competitors’ in this space as neither explicitly offer a ‘data’ license at the moment.
    Indeed, OKF cites our earlier TCL as an exemplar of an open data license and both are amongst those who would make the perfect sustainable home to which I refer in my post. Talis don’t see ourselves in the business of maintaining licenses into the future, but we do see a need for a license such as this, and are happy to play our part in seeding the work and the conversation from which the ‘answer’ might hopefully grow.

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