Obama-Biden transition site Change.gov now under a Creative Commons license

Eric Steuer

Change.gov, the website of US president-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, has undergone some important and exciting changes over the past few days. Among them is the site’s new copyright notice, which expresses that the bulk of Change.gov is published under the most permissive of Creative Commons copyright licenses – CC BY.

Except where otherwise noted, content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Content includes all materials posted by the Obama-Biden Transition project. Visitors to this website agree to grant a non-exclusive, irrevocable, royalty-free license to the rest of the world for their submissions to Change.gov under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

This is great news and a encouraging sign that the new administration has a clear sense of the importance of openness in government and on the web (there’s a bit more on this over at Lessig’s blog). The embrace of Creative Commons licensing on Change.gov is consistent with earlier support by both Obama and McCain for the idea of “open debates.” (It’s also in line with Obama’s decision to publish the pictures in his Flickr Photostream under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license – pretty cool!)

Tim O’Reilly has written a smart post (which has elicited some very thoughtful reader comments) recommending that Change.gov use revision control as a way to further improve transparency and make it possible for the public to review any changes that occur on the site. Of course, licensing is just one component of openness, but getting licensing right is necessary for enabling people to truly take advantage of technologies that facilitate collaboration.

Update: Several people have pointed out that “works created by an agency of the United States government are public domain at the moment of creation” (see Wikipedia for more on this). Change.gov is not currently the project of a government agency, but a 501(c)(4) that has been set up to manage the Obama-Biden transition. Also, the public is being invited to contribute their own comments and works to the site, and it is important to have a clear marking of the permissions that other people have to this material.

7 thoughts on “Obama-Biden transition site Change.gov now under a Creative Commons license”

  1. Hi Ben! Great question. It turns out that since Change.gov is actually run by the Obama/Biden 501c4 transition organization, and are therefore entitled to copyright
    protection and consequently can be CC licensed.

    More importantly, however, this decision means that content submitted to Change.gov that isn’t created by the government is also released under CC. This ensures that even after January 20th, the wealth of information and content on Change.gov submitted by citizens will remain free to use, build upon, and share.

  2. I am not quite sure about this, interested in further comment. Specifically, I wonder about using the “remix” component in web sites that are oriented at discussion. If I post, say, a blog comment, I’m fine with somebody republishing it elsewhere along with attribution, but I’m a little uncomfortable with giving carte-blanche to someone to remove words, splice in other words, etc.

    I am genuinely on the fence about this. I’m not sure whether or not copyright is the right tool to deal with this issue.

    However, the basic gut feeling is, “I own my own words, and releasing that ownership is not a step to be taken lightly.”

    Lest I be misunderstood, this concern applies ONLY to discussion-oriented content. I have over 12,000 edits to Wikipedia, which I have gladly released under a permissive CC license; I am considering releasing all my Wikipedia edits to article space into the public domain. I am a huge proponent of building the commons. But the further step of saying “everything I say should be put into the commons” — I’m not so sure about that.

  3. Pete: two responses. First, the CC BY 3.0 license allows you to demand that someone else remove your name from a modified version of your words. So if they change around what you say to the point that you feel it misrepresents what you say, you’re within your rights to demand that they not hold it out to the world as having come from you. Second, I think you’re exactly right that copyright isn’t really the right tool here; you have more of a dignitary concern. The copyright hammer isn’t the right one for this particular nail.

  4. Thanks for the reply. I’m happy to hear that CC-BY-3.0 permits that; it wasn’t clear to me before.

    I’m still pondering the second part of your reply. It seems that the desire to have the words protected comes from a concept of “owning” one’s own statements, much like the reason that we allow people to copyright an essay, a song, etc.

    Of course, there is always fair use, if somebody wants to quote you; they have to do so in a way that is fair. The right to fair use is there, regardless of whether the words are licensed under CC-BY-3.0.

    So, it seems to me like licensing discussion content in this way mostly duplicates stuff that copyright law already covers, potentially creating a lot of confusion. I’m not sure I see the benefit that offsets it.

    I’ve tried looking up “dignitary concern,” but am having trouble coming up with a simple definition. Any suggestions?

    At the root of my hesitation: putting ANY kind of preconditions on who may participate in a discussion, has potential consequences for the content of the discussion. I think this calls for great caution. It seems very reasonable to say, “Before you embark on this collaborative project with us, you must license your contributions a certain way.” But I’m not sure about “Before you can TALK to us, you must license your contributions a certain way.”

  5. The CC BY 3.0 license allows you to demand that someone else remove your name from a modified version of your words. So if they change around what you say to the point that you feel it misrepresents what you say!

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