3 thoughts on “Open data, commercialization, and copyleft

  1. Hello Galen,

    I agree 100% with your arguments why libraries should publish their data under an open license and especially want to emphasize this point: “It is in the aggregation of metadata where the licensing decisions that libraries make when releasing bibliographic data matter most. The less friction there is to commercial and non-commercial reuse of the data, the more the data will be used and improved.”

    I’d like to make one thing clear though: The Principles on Open Bibliographic Data don’t only adress libraries and librarians but all other producers of bibliographic data like – quoting the principles – “publishers, scholars, online communities of book lovers, social reference management systems, and so on”. The principles hold for all these agents and thus one can say that your proposed fifth point is already part of the original principles.

    With Peter Murray-Rust and Jim Pitman the group who created the principles had two scientists in it who are specifically interested in journal article data which normally isn’t produced by libraries. Thus, we are not only talking about data in library catalogs which mostly covers monographs and journals, we are also talking about article metadata which in many scientific disciplines plays the really important role. And in this realm of journal article data there is a contrary movement towards a growing commercialization of metadata – one just has to look at services that emerged in the last years like Summon, Primo central and EBSCO Discovery Service who basically sell licenses to access aggregations of metadata…


  2. Thank you for correcting my too-narrow view of the target audience for the principles. I agree that open article metadata is also extremely important. The fact that libraries ceded maintenance of such data to the publishers and aggregators is an understandable historical event but one that hampers broader innovation in discovery tools, particularly for academic libraries.

    That said, I think my fifth recommendation does cover a point that is not explicit in the principles as stated: in order to foster the best use and improvement of open bibliographic data, consumers of it should be prepared to contribute their changes back. Unlikely a copyleft license such as the GPL, the PDDL and CC0 do not impose such a requirement. While I don’t think that the GPL per se would be suitable for metadata licensing, I would like to see a social norm arise that consumers of open bibliographic data fully participate in the ecosystem by contributing improvements back, even though they’re under no obligation to do so. The distinction I’m trying to draw is between the original producers of bibliographic data and a secondary market of individuals and firms who find ways to mash it up and enhance it.

  3. I think the above article confuses “commercial” and “for-profit”. A non-profit trading company can’t “aggregate PDDL/CC0 data and commercial-use-restricted data” in the line of their trading without getting another licence for the restricted stuff. That’s a mistake that a lot of people make when choosing NC and they hurt lots of non-profits by doing it.

    I fully endorse the idea of contributing back, though. It would be good for projects to make that easier, too.

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