Myself, Scott Wilson and Randy Metcalfe co-authored a paper on “Openness in Higher Education: Open Source, Open Standards, Open Access” which Scott presented at the ELPUB 2007 conference. The paper described the potential benefits of use of open standards and open source software and an open approach which characterises much of the Web 2.0 environment.

We were aware when writing the paper, though, that there was a gap related to open data. I’m pleased to report that this gap is now being addressed with the launch by Talis and Creative Commons of a new open data licence, which the press release describes as “a milestone for sharing data on the Internet”.

I was aware of Talis’s work in this area when I attended a session on Open Data at the WWW 2007 conference, which I wrote about some time ago. One of the questions I asked at the conference related to the governance of Talis’s Community Licence.  I was assured that Talis aimed to get it established as an open licence governed by a trusted neutral provider and this was confirmed in a post by Paul Miller in September 2007.  And now the results of that work is openly available.

Talis’s press release is given below.

Talis and Creative Commons are delighted to announce the release of the Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication and Licence, the first output of a successful partnership with the Science Commons project of Creative Commons.  Creative Commons is well known for its advocacy and licensing work in the arena of ‘creative works’ such as songs, images, and copyrightable text.

In developing the Public Domain Dedication and Licence, Talis secured the efforts of Jordan Hatcher and Dr. Charlotte Waelde, asking them to build upon the principles of the earlier Talis Community Licence in ways that ensured its fitness for international purpose whilst aligning it more closely to the phrasing of Creative Commons’ overarching protocol.

Talis Technology Evangelist Dr. Paul Miller commented, “At Talis we’ve been arguing for a more permissive culture around use and reuse of data for a very long time. Working with our partners at Creative Commons and elsewhere we now have a clear framework upon which to build, and in our Public Domain Dedication and Licence we have the very first licence to conform to that new Science Commons Open Access Data Protocol. With this announcement we provide a tool to those who already understand the value of unlocking their data. We can also use discussion of this first tool to carry a wider set of messages to those who remain unaware of the importance of data licensing to their own activities.”

The legal environment within which data exist is radically different to that for creative works, and although there have been attempts to apply pharmacy existing Creative Commons licenses to data, the legal validity of those efforts is questionable. In Europe we have Directive 96/9/EC of the European Parliament, and its various expressions in the laws of member states to define the so-called Database Right. These protections do not apply in jurisdictions such as the United States. A different approach is therefore required if we are to facilitate the widespread availability of data upon which the emerging Semantic Web will depend.

John Wilbanks, Creative Commons’ Vice President responsible for the Science Commons project, commented “For a commercial organisation such as Talis, with a heritage in the business of creating and managing data, to recognise the importance of the ‘freedom to integrate’ says much about changing attitudes to the ownership and use of data. That they  went beyond this recognition and did something about it with their licensing and advocacy work says much about them and the team with which they collaborated. The Open Data Commons Licence is the fruit of that collaboration. Both CC0 and the ODCL offer a sound legal basis upon which creators can follow Talis’ example and recognise that there is far more to be gained by enabling access to data than by continuing to lock it away. Uniquely built for data, the Open Data Commons Licence approach furthermore implements the norms of data sharing for scientific data, providing the guidance for scientists to act as good citizens without exposing them to lawsuits and lawyers.”

Jordan Hatcher, who completed the redrafting effort, commented, “Building an open data licence for the community is very much a collaborative process and we need everyone’s input to make the licence be the best it can be — including meeting everyone’s needs for open data. The project’s goal is to produce an easy to understand licence and that means having it user tested just like software. In the end, the Open Data Commons licence will provide a workable and easy to use solution for data integration that will take care of the relevant rights over data and databases.”

The Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication and Licence is available for use from today. We are working with the Cambridge-based Open Knowledge Foundation in the expectation that they can take on the support and development of this and related licenses in the future, ensuring true community ownership of the licensing cornerstone upon which so much data will come to rely.

The Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication and Licence is available for download from www.opendatacommons.org,  along with the first set of documented Community Norms.

Many congratulations to Talis for this work.  Now that the licence  is available, let’s start making use of it and share our data as well as our text, images and software.