Wikimedia Panel: “Government Works in the Public Domain”

Matthias Schindler, the Project Manager (and unofficial “Content Liberator”) of Wikimedia Germany sat down with Paul Keller of CC Netherlands, Tomer Ashur of Wikipedia Israel, and Mike Linksvayer of Creative Commons to talk about their experiences with government works and their efforts to release them to the public domain or under a free license.

Keller described his work in the Netherlands, where CC was lucky enough to be at the table at the moment when the government was discussing a total rework and consolidation of their government websites, and was able to get their ideas in place for Dutch government data. As a result, the new Dutch government website carries a CC0 waiver.

“Don’t start with lawyers in order to get CC implemented by the government,” says Keller. Having the conversation with the government worked really well, and while it depended on the one-in-a-million shot of being around for such a major shift in the governmental infrastructure. The decision was very smooth, except for some unusual qualms about the CC0 deed including a waiver of warranties, because the use of CC0 wasn’t particularly political and wasn’t a “license choice.” The Dutch copyright act says that certain government data, like laws, can not be protected, but other government works can be copyrighted. CC0 is just a method for positively asserting that they’re not claiming the copyright in those works. It’s not really a political decision, it doesn’t cost the government anything, there wasn’t a strong political backlash, and it’s part of the infrastructure now.

Ashur talked about a summit with Israeli parliament members on how the government could help Wikipedians. Those parliament members were surprised to find out that government-produced images are not usable for licensing reasons. Since then, one of those parliament members proposed to release all government images to the public domain, and that proposal has been gathering support all throughout the government.

The possible downsides are the loss of revenue from directly selling photographs, manipulation of the photographs for deceptive means, and costs of publishing. These are for the most part not specific to freely licensed images, and outweighed by the benefits. Ashur hopes that passing the bill, even in a compromised form that eschews PD in favor of an attribution license, will help to demonstrate that the possible downsides are overblown.

Linksvayer pointed out that the commons is a useful concept as a kind of a quasi-public domain where users have absolute rights for certain uses. The commons and the public domain have a big opportunity with government data and works because the public sector has an institutional mission aligned with sharing.

He also suggests that there are different ideas of the scope of opportunity: are we just talking about public sector information, or information produced with funding from the government (which includes educational materials and similar things) or even publicly-minded information (which can include material from private organizations).

One barrier that comes up is cost recovery, but Linksvayer thinks that striving towards cost recovery is the wrong hybrid to encourage. It has the direct effect of limiting the public’s use of or access to information that has been publicly funded.

He also mentioned the “public domain mark” is a new tool by Creative Commons that isn’t a license or a waiver, but uses the CC infrastructure for information and machine-discoverability.

The panel then turned their attention to the idea of informal copyright policies, like those of the Israeli government which has never sued anybody for violating government copyright. The government doesn’t enforce these policies, but at the same time, like many large organizations, they have a problem with releasing the works freely. Even when they are comfortable allowing all sorts of usages, they don’t see the benefits of formalizing it with a license.

Schindler suggests that though the governments might say, “It’s working, why change it?” in fact, it’s not working. Wikipedia and other organizations can’t use the work. This system may have worked 20 years ago, but it’s not working today, even if the effects are hard to observe. ESA complains about the space imagery on Wikipedia being mostly American, but in fact they don’t control the licensing of their own images and they’re not public domain.

As Keller stated, the only way to improve the quality of what’s on Wikipedia is by providing something better. For governments, that means releasing information and images that can be used. Schindler recounted a situation where in Germany the politicians were complaining that no good photos were available of the on Wikipedia. Wikipedians who understand copyright law just went to the parliaments and took photos themselves.

In any case, government data is an important resource, and is being produced with the support of public money. It’s important, then, that this material is made available for the public.

Der Beitrag wurde am Friday, den 8. October 2010 um 15:40 Uhr von veröffentlicht und wurde unter Allgemein abgelegt. Sie können die Kommentare zu diesem Eintrag durch den RSS 2.0 Feed verfolgen. Sie können einen Kommentar schreiben, oder einen Trackback auf Ihrer Seite einrichten.

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