Marking and Tagging the Public Domain

I am cribbing significant amounts of this post from a Creative Commons blogpost about tagging the public domain. Attribution is to Diane Peters for the stuff I've incorporated :-)

The big news is that, 18 months since we launched CC0 1.0, our public domain waiver that allows rights holders to place a work as nearly as possible into the public domain,'s been a success. CC0 has proven a valuable tool for governments, scientists, data providers, providers of bibliographic data, and many others throughout world. CC0 has been used by the pharmaceutical industry giant GSK as well as by the emerging open data leader Sage Bionetworks (disclosure - I'm on the Board of Sage - though not of GSK!).

At the time we published CC0, we made note of a second public domain tool under development -- a tool that would make it easy for people to tag and find content already in the public domain. That tool, our new "Public Domain Mark" is now published for comment.

The PDM allows works already in the public domain to be marked and tagged in a way that clearly communicates the work's PD status, and allows it to be easily discoverable. The PDM is not a legal instrument like CC0 or our licenses -- it can only be used to label a work with information about its public domain copyright status, not change a work's current status under copyright. However, just like CC0 and our licenses, PDM has a metadata-supported deed and is machine readable, allowing works tagged with PDM to be findable on the Internet. (Please note that the example used on the sample deed is purely hypothetical at the moment.)

We are also releasing for public comment general purpose norms -- voluntary guidelines or "pleases" that providers and curators of PD materials may request be followed when a PD work they have marked is thereafter used by others. Our PDM deed as well as an upcoming enhanced CC0 deed will support norms in addition to citation metadata, which will allow a user to easily cite the author or provider of the work through copy-paste HTML.

This is absolutely critical to science, because it addresses at last the biggest reason that people mis-use copyright licenses on uncopyrightable materials and data sets: the confusion of the legal right of attribution in copyright with the academic and professional norm of citation of one's efforts. Making it easy to cite, regardless of the law, is one of the keys to making the public domain something that we can construct through individual private choice at scale, not just by getting governments to adopt.

The public comment period will close on Wednesday, August 18th. Why so short? For starters, PDM is not a legal tool in the same sense our licenses and CC0 are legally operative -- no legal rights are being surrendered or affected, and there is no accompanying legal code to finesse. Just as importantly, however, we believe that having the mark used soon rather than later will allow early adopters to provide us with invaluable feedback on actual implementations, which will allow us to improve the marking tool in the future.

The primary venue for submitting comments and discussing the tool is the cc-licenses mailing list. We look forward to hearing from you!

There are a lot of fascinating projects around how to do the non-legal work of data. The Sage Commons has seen a bunch of them come together, but in this context I want to call out - the SageCite project driven by UKOLN, the University of Manchester, and the British Library - which is going to develop and test an entire framework for citation, not attribution, using bioinformatics as a test case.

My own hope is that by making citation inside Creative Commons legal tools that work on the public domain a cut-and-paste process, we can facilitate the emergence of frameworks like SageCite so that the legal aspects fade away on the data sets and databases themselves, and the focus can be on the more complex network models of complex adaptive systems. And I'm tremendously excited to see members of the community leveraging the Sage project to do independent, crucial work on the topic of citation. Like Wikipedia, Sage won't work unless it is something that we all own together and work on for our own reasons.

This is only still the beginning of really open data - public domain data - that complies with the Panton Principles. Creative Commons has spent six long years studying the open data issue, and rolling out policy and tools and technologies that make it possible for end users from the Dutch government to the Polar Information Commons to create their own open data systems.

We still have to avoid the siren song of property rights on data, and of license proliferation. But it's starting to feel like momentum is gaining on public domain data, and for the Creative Commons tools that make it a reality. Making citation one-click, and making it easy to tag and mark the public domain, is part of that momentum. Please help us by commenting on the tools, and by promoting their use when you run across any open data project where the terms are unclear.

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A tiny point:
I had trouble parsing this phrase:
"My own hope is that by making citation inside Creative Commons legal tools that work on the public domain a cut-and-paste process, ..."
Perhaps you could edit it to make it easier to understand?

By Robert Muetzelfeldt (not verified) on 24 Mar 2012 #permalink

In terms of open data, attribution is not sufficient for some data providers as a social reward for their work. Citation is more valuable. I know that NASA providers keep careful track of citations back to their data collections as a metric. Cite-ability is a great goal for data sharing. Other services, such as registries, evaluation tools, and provenance services would all benefit from improved citation.