Smithsonian Commons and Sustainable Content Usage Policies

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On Thursday, Michael Edson of the Smithsonian posted on the Smithsonian 2.0 blog that they had released their “Web and New Media Strategy” with the purpose of laying a groundwork for a Smithsonian Commons:

The strategy talks about an updated digital experience, a new learning model that helps people with their “lifelong learning journeys,” and the creation of a Smithsonian Commons—a new part of our digital presence dedicated to stimulating learning, creation, and innovation through open access to Smithsonian research, collections and communities.

Of particular interest to our community is that the report PDF itself (and its draft wiki) are both licensed under our permissive, Attribution license. More substantially is the report’s section on the proposed content usage policy of the Smithsonian Commons:

Content Usage: Establish a pan-Institutional policy for sharing and using the Smithsonian’s digital content, with particular focus on Copyright and Public Domain policies that encourage the appropriate re-use and sharing of Smithsonian resources.

Congratulations to the Smithsonian for thinking about the future lives of their content in such a sustainable fashion. We’re very excited to see the future developments that the Smithsonian Commons brings to free culture on an institutional scale.

2 thoughts on “Smithsonian Commons and Sustainable Content Usage Policies”

  1. The Smithsonian Institution is to be congratulated on developing a strategy and policy to share their resources by reducing intellectual property barriers.

    However, some tweaking may be needed in practice to avoid misunderstanding.

    The report PDF itself and the draft wiki are NOT licensed under the CC Attribution license. The notice at the bottom of the page states:
    “Contributions to are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
    Portions not contributed by visitors are Copyright 2009 Tangient LLC.”

    “Contributions” needs to be defined in terms of who is contributing what. I believe the intent of the statement is that Non-Government Visitors agree that the original content they author and post is subject to a CC Attribution license. But what if the contributor adds material authored by someone else? And what if the contributor is a Smithsonian or US Government employee?

    Here’s my suggestion for an alternate notice:
    Original content authored and contributed by visitors to is provided under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

    And regarding the SI report itself… I believe it is a “work of the US Government” and not subject to copyright protection. Unfortunately, it does not carry a notice. Under current US Copyright Law, absent a notice users must assume a work is copyrighted until they can prove otherwise.

  2. Hi Bonnie – – As we’ve been putting more of our work on 3rd party social sites we’ve been running into this problem of how to properly express the right IP statements within the sometimes rigid or incomplete list of choices offered by service providers.

    Wikispaces now allows us to choose from a variety of different licenses/IP statements for our strategy wiki. (I’m not sure when Wikispaces added this flexibility, but it’s wonderful, and should be an example for the industry!!!) I’m working with our Office of General Counsel to figure out what, exactly, we should say about the IP of the web and new media strategy wiki. My non-lawyers perspective is that, yes, overall it is a work of the us government and not subject to copyright.

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