CC0 Public Domain Dedication

Attention game designers: Public Domain Jam!

Elliot Harmon, May 16th, 2014

If you’re a videogame designer and you have nothing to do over the next week (or if making cool games is more fun than your day job), why not spend the week developing a public domain game?

The idea of The Public Domain Jam is to encourage developers to create games based on public domain assets and stories, and optionally give the games themselves back to the public domain via the CC0 waiver. The game trailer encourages designers to think about the amazing wealth of public domain source material: maybe in the next week, Ovid’s Metamorphoses will dethrone zombies as the most important source of game design inspiration in the public domain.

The contest is being organized by game developer Gritfish, and fellow game developer Nick Liow is sponsoring a $1000 prize for the best CC0 game.

If you recognize Nick’s name, it might be because I interviewed him last year about his Open Game Art Bundle. Since then, he’s released his own crowdfunded CC0 game, Nothing to Hide.

Hurry! The Public Domain Jam ends May 24.

Update (June 9): The judges have selected the best CC0 game, Paper Jekyll. It’s a really interesting take on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Check it out! Congratulations to everyone who built a game.

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Commonly: Refreshing the Public Domain

Elliot Harmon, July 1st, 2013

Last week, indie videogame designer Nick Liow launched the Open Game Art Bundle. It’s a simple idea: independent videogame designers contribute game assets – animations, soundtracks, character designs – and customers can pay any price they want to access them. Nick describes it as a sort of cross between Kickstarter and Humble Bundle, and like Humble Indie Bundle, the income is split between the developers themselves and charities (including Creative Commons). But there’s one big twist: if the bundle reaches its goal of $10,000 by July 15, all assets will become public domain under the CC0 public domain declaration.

This is actually the third bundle Nick has put out under the brand Commonly. It’s the most ambitious bundle to date, but it’s really just the beginning. What Nick’s really interested in isn’t just about videogames; it’s about changing how people think about the public domain. I met up with him a few days ago to chat about videogames, public domain, and the open source movement.

We also talked about the increasing rift in the videogame world between the indie developers like himself and the high-budget, “Triple A” games of the big-name studios. There’s been a lot of talk recently about the videogame industry’s occasional tone-deafness to issues like race and sexuality. Nick told me that he sees a parallel conflict over issues like intellectual property and digital rights management (DRM). While many young developers like Nick share his opinions, some big-name developers are sticking to what he sees as a more old-fashioned view.

“The triple-A industry has to reach out to as massive an audience as possible,” Nick said. “They close things off because they can’t afford the risk. You notice that indie games tend to be for a more a more open ecosystem. With the Humble Indie Bundle, “DRM-Free” is a part of their tag line. Indie games go with the more open ecosystems… while triple-A’s create their own walled gardens with game consoles.” And, he was quick to add, “The iPhone counts as a [closed] console.”

Nick recently moved to the San Francisco Bay Area – he’ll be here for the next two years as a part of the Thiel Fellowship. “You have to have a big vision [for the fellowship],” he told me, “and my big vision was a thriving public domain.”

He originally applied for the fellowship with his project Craftyy, an open source game-development platform and social network. Although the Thiel judges liked Nick’s ideas, “It wasn’t clear to them how Craftyy would lead to a thriving public domain.” That was when Nick started to shift to the idea of crowdfunding for public domain creative works. He told me that his plan for the next two years is to expand the Commonly concept beyond the world of videogame developers into the broader creative community. I can’t wait to see where Commonly goes next and what awesome stuff it brings into the public domain with it.

Related: Guest Blog Post: Crowdfunding the Commons

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Europeana releases 20 million records into the public domain using CC0

Timothy Vollmer, September 12th, 2012

This week marks a momentous occasion, as Europeana — Europe’s digital library — has released 20 million records into the public domain using the CC0 Public Domain Dedication. This release is the largest one-time dedication of cultural data to the public domain using CC0. The Europeana dataset consists of descriptive information from a huge trove of digitized cultural and artistic works. Now, per the Europeana Terms of Use, “all metadata (textual information on digitised cultural heritage) on the site are published without any restrictions on re-use.” The public domain data can be useful for cultural institutions, researchers, and application developers. By removing all copyright restrictions from the data, Europeana helps to promote innovation and economic activity. From the press release:

Importantly, the change represents a valuable contribution to the European Commission’s agenda to drive growth through digital innovation. Online open data is a core resource which can fuel enterprise and create opportunities for millions of Europeans working in Europe’s cultural and creative industries. The sector represents 3.3% of EU GDP and is worth over €150 billion in exports.

Europeana’s announcement was praised by Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission, who said:

Open data is such a powerful idea, and Europeana is such a cultural asset, that only good things can result from the marriage of the two. People often speak about closing the digital divide and opening up culture to new audiences but very few can claim such a big contribution to those efforts as Europeana’s shift to creative commons.

The Creative Commons Affiliate teams in the Netherlands and Luxembourg, through partner organizations Institute for Information Law (IViR), Kennisland, and the Bibliothèque nationale de Luxembourg provided expert support to Europeana during this process. Europeana has been at the forefront of exploring ways to share the European cultural record. They are one of the first adopters of CC’s Public Domain Mark and continue to support a vibrant, healthy public domain.

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Library catalog metadata: Open licensing or public domain?

Timothy Vollmer, August 14th, 2012

catalogue
catalogue / elise.y / CC BY

As reported a few weeks ago, OCLC has recommended that its member libraries adopt the Open Data Commons Attribution license (ODC-BY) when they share their library catalog data online. The recommendation to use an open license like ODC-BY is a positive step forward for OCLC because it helps communicate in advance the rights and responsibilities available to potential users of bibliographic metadata from library catalogs. But the decision by OCLC to recommend the licensing route — as opposed to releasing bibliographic metadata into the public domain — raises concerns that warrants more discussion.

OCLC says that making library data derived from WorldCat available under an open license like ODC-BY complies with their community norms. There are other options, however, that are equally compliant. Harvard Library, for example, developed an agreement with OCLC earlier this year that makes its metadata available under the CC0 Public Domain Dedication. This means that Harvard relinquishes all its copyright and related rights to that data, thereby enabling the widest variety of downstream reuse. Even though it puts this information into the public domain, Harvard requests that users provide attribution to the source as a best practice without making attribution a legally binding requirement through a license.

There are good reasons for relying on community norms for metadata attribution instead of requiring it as a condition of a licensing agreement. The requirement to provide attribution through a contract like ODC-BY is not well-suited to a world where data are combined and remixed from multiple sources and under a variety of licenses and other use restrictions. For example, the library community is experimenting with new technologies like linked data as a means of getting more value from its decades-long collective investment in cataloging data. And we’re happy to see that OCLC has released a million WorldCat records containing 80 million linked data triples in RDF. However, we believe that requiring attribution as a licensing condition introduces complexity that will make it technically difficult — if not impossible — for users to comply.

Then there is the question of how to properly attach attribution information to a discrete bit of data (e.g. a single field, subfield, or triple). OCLC has helpfully provided guidelines around attribution for its linked data, but how would these work for member libraries that follow OCLC’s recommendation to adopt the ODC-BY license when they publish their own data? Library linked data collections are often derived from small subsets of many large collections and recombined with new relationships, potentially requiring separate attribution for each data element. In the case of OCLC’s data release, imagine that a user downloads the OCLC file containing 80 million linked data triples, extracts the ones she’s interested in, and then links them to her own catalog data to create a new linked dataset. The guidelines for the WorldCat data include the option of considering a WorldCat URI to be sufficient attribution, but how would that work for the library’s own bibliographic data or for additional data drawn from non-OCLC sources? The guidelines do not include recommendations for how libraries should implement their own data in such a way that reusers can comply with the attribution requirements imposed by the ODC-BY license. The community norms and best practices for reusing library linked data are not yet well defined, so relying on them in the context of a legally binding license is troubling.

Another question arises about the scope of the ODC-BY license with its focus on European database rights in addition to copyright — database rights that do not apply in the U.S. and that cover the database in its entirety but not its contents, making it uncertain whether it can be applied to a simple file of bibliographic data. And the question of whether copyright applies at all to bibliographic data, given its mainly factual nature, is doubtful and differs depending on legal jurisdiction. While the ODC-BY license may make good sense for OCLC to apply to WorldCat itself, it would be a questionable choice for a U.S. library that is looking to share some of its catalog data as a downloadable file.

Moreover, because most countries outside of the European Union — including the United States — do not grant protection to non-creative databases, the ODC-BY license does not operate except at best as a contractual restriction on those downloading directly from the licensor’s website. So this restriction, which is not based on any underlying exclusive property right, is unlikely to bind reusers that do not obtain the data directly from the original data provider. The absence of a binding contract coupled with the lack of any underlying property right means licensors may be surprised to learn they do not have a strong and effective remedy such as a claim of infringement against those downstream users. This is a known concern with the Open Database License, ODC-BY’s sister license that has the same license + contract design feature. Thus, the license in many instances simply will not protect the library that shared the data, or OCLC, in the manner they expect.

Another more general concern about using a licence to share bibliographic metadata has to do with its technical feasibility. This is evident in the Model language that OCLC recommends, which includes links to the WCRR Record Use Policy (WorldCat Rights and Responsibilities), community norms and an FAQ. Following these links takes readers to pages with yet more information about the requirements expected for members and non-members. The concern is not so much the opaqueness of the rules, but that they may become linked to a great number of records which have nothing to do with OCLC. For example, many members may only have started fairly recently to re-use records from OCLC, yet in the model language no distinction is made between OCLC and non-OCLC sourced records, again, because there is no feasible technical solution to differentiate between these. The result: attribution is (wrongly) given to OCLC for the whole database, and a large number of OCLC principles linked to the library database’s complete contents. While the ODC-BY and WCRR may well be well-intentioned instruments to turn the WorldCat data into a “Common Pool Resource” for OCLC members, it certainly lacks the technical solutions to demarcate where it begins and ends, potentially resulting in confusion and overreaching requirements for members that try to comply. Fundamentally, this begs the question whether library records shouldn’t just be public goods released into the public domain.

For all of the above reasons, cultural institutions including The British Library, Europeana, the University of Michigan Library, Harvard and others have adopted the CC0 Public Domain Dedication for publishing their catalog data online. From this, we see that a truly normative approach for the library community would be a public domain dedication such as CC0, coupled with requests to provide attribution to the source (e.g. OCLC) to the extent possible. Such an approach would maximize experimentation and innovation with the cataloging data, in keeping with the mission and values of the library community, while respecting the investment of OCLC and the library community in this valuable resource.

Contributors to this post: Timothy Vollmer, MacKenzie Smith, Paul Keller, Diane Peters.

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