What is Alternative Licensing?


As new forms of publication and scholarship begin to take hold, the academic world is examining standard forms of licensing and rights management and finding them lacking. While current copyright and intellectual property laws focus on restricting use of materials, authors are beginning to explore new models that center on enabling use while still protecting the academic value of a publication. Some rights are still reserved, but some are proactively licensed at publication time to encourage re-use. These approaches make it clear which rights are licensed for various uses, removing the barrier of copyright and smoothing the way for others to access and use one’s work. One such approach is that taken by Creative Commons, an organization that supplies easy-to-understand, “some rights reserved” licenses for creative work. Authors simply review the list of rights they can grant or restrict, make their choices, and receive a link to a written license that spells out how their work may be used. The licenses work within current copyright laws but clearly state how a work may be used. Copyleft is another alternative approach; often used in open source software development, copyleft describes how work can be used and also governs how derivative works are to be licensed as well. Models like these are beginning to gain acceptance among artists, photographers, and musicians; scholarly papers and reports are increasingly released under alternative licenses. Some organizations, such as the New Media Consortium, have made it a policy to release all their work under licenses that facilitate sharing and reuse.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the museums you know best?

  • Alternative licensing strategies are of growing importance to museums who wish to publicly share their digital assets (text, image, video, etc.), but still maintain some sense of control how the resources are used, modified, attributed and reused. Museum's past fixation with traditional copyright control is now being challenged by online authoring tools Pachyderm, Omeka, Scrapblog, etc. as well as opportunities to share via API's and public repository protocols like OAI and OKI. Each of these opportunities begs for greater flexibility in licensing. - scott.sayre scott.sayre May 1, 2010 - ninmah ninmah May 5, 2010
  • As museums shift to a user-centered paradigm in which our visitor controls his/her experience while in the museum, and later at home or school, providing the flexibility to that user to repurpose museum content is critical. In addition, museums with libraries and photo archives deal with this question every day as we seek to increase access to these collections in as open a way as possible, while reserving options for new revenue channels. Many museums are involved in open source projects now like the Encyclopedia of Life and the Biodiversity Heritage Library. - elizabeth.babcock elizabeth.babcock May 2, 2010
  • Although there is an acknowledgment that alternative licensing strategies are needed, until they have an impact on the legal community that works with our registers and operations staff, I don't think this technology will be relevant. Their is little understanding of the commons movement within in my institution, other than a hope it may have an impact. We definately need alternatives, but I am not sure it is a technology as different point of view on how to acknowledge copyright holders (the creators) while being able to share our cultural heritage and stories. - christina.depaolo christina.depaolo May 2, 2010
  • Following on from Christina's statement, I'd say that alternative licensing strategies are (or at least could be) tied to open collections access (whether via APIs or other means). Because publishing content that way implicitly means that users will be able to use that content outside of a given museum's domain, that museum will have to have a licensing strategy in place that can handle the scale of content that will result. Your two rights & repro people are probably fine for "print-scale" licensing requests, but not for "web-scale" requests.- Koven Koven May 3, 2010
  • The cornerstone of the Smithsonian Commons is using alternative licensing (or just a clear statement of Public Domain) to give users explicit permission to re-use our collections to create new works of art/research/innovation. This is central to the assertion that in this epoch, the role of our Big Institutions is to catalyze knowledge creation outside of our walls (rather than assume that we'll be doing all the discovery/innovation/curation ourselves) - michael.edson michael.edson May 4, 2010

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Reuse
  • Crowdsourcing and collaborative knowledge creation - michael.edson michael.edson May 4, 2010
  • The public domain (which doesn't require alternative licensing, or any licensing for that matter!) - michael.edson michael.edson May 4, 2010
  • Community enhanced content
  • Marketing- scott.sayre scott.sayre May 1, 2010
  • Balancing revenue potential with desire to provide free access to the public
  • How to manage the question of derivative products
  • Managing rights to online learning applications - elizabeth.babcock elizabeth.babcock May 2, 2010
  • Might want to mention two license types that aren't mentioned above: the Scholar's License (used with ArtStor to allow free use of assets for scholarly publications with low print-runs) and the "No Known Copyright" distinction, which, while not actually a license as such, is the rights statement used on a lot (all?) the Flickr Commons material.- Koven Koven May 3, 2010 I'd add that the Met's scholars' license (actually called Images for Academic Publishing by ARTstor) was actually developed as a way to acknowledge the important role that museums play in supporting scholarly publishing that isn't directly commissioned by them, and is considered by some museums as distinctly different from other types of open content/alternative licensing use. - susan.chun susan.chun May 4, 2010
  • Also might want to mention the implication to museums for finding alternative revenue models--the implication of much of this alternative licensing is essentially that the content itself isn't "sale-able", but that the means for accessing that content might be. I ref'd this in the readings section, but Kevin Kelly's "Better Than Free" breaks down this issue really succinctly: http://bit.ly/CuhNU- Koven Koven May 3, 2010

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • Formal adoption of alternative licensing strategies at an institutional level can open the door for museums to more share their assets with teachers, students, scholars, museum colleagues and the general public while clearly stating their restrictions and requirements. Adoption of alternative license strategies can also free museum staff to work more effectively with a museum's digital assets in internal and external projects (museum commons, etc.) where content contribution is required.- scott.sayre scott.sayre May 1, 2010 - ninmah ninmah May 5, 2010
  • Agree with Scott, this is imperative to the issue of art museums ability to stay culturally relevant in the digital world. I thought this issue would have improved for my museum by now, but instead it has gotten worse.- christina.depaolo christina.depaolo May 2, 2010

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

  • See http://www.infotoday.com/online/jan10/Gordon-Murnane.shtml- scott.sayre scott.sayre May 1, 2010
  • See fieldmuseum.org/watercalculator for an example of an open source online learning application- elizabeth.babcock elizabeth.babcock May 2, 2010
  • See eol.org for museum -related project provided open access to scientific information gathered from around the world- elizabeth.babcock elizabeth.babcock May 2, 2010
  • Both Brooklyn Museum and Powerhouse have used CC licenses a lot and they report good results re: revenue generation and reuse. - michael.edson michael.edson May 4, 2010
  • MIT Open Courseware uses CC licensing - - - it's central!- michael.edson michael.edson May 4, 2010
  • Flickr Commons is good example of pervasive/clear use of CC licensing to enable reuse - michael.edson michael.edson May 4, 2010
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