Governments And Free Content Policies

A nice little story for those of you who may have missed it.

Last week Larry Lessig blogged about how the new change.gov site for Obama included the following at the bottom of the page:

CONTENT COPYRIGHT © 2008. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Larry pointed to Chris Messina’s post asking why a Creative Commons license was not used. When I read the post, I agreed with both of their sentiments.

Well, it seems Obama’s staff are pretty responsive: they have switched the content to a CC-BY license, the freest of CC licenses. Larry has the details here. Gobama!

It seems that the positioning of the question regarding government content is skewed. Instead of the question being “why should we license this content under a free license?” it should be “why should we NOT license this content under a free license?“. Of course, this change in approach is a mindset change. It requires participants to adjust their expectations of the norm to be a Free Culture society as opposed to a restricted society.

To me this is the most important goal for members of the Free Culture community to seek. We have the licenses, we have publishing systems, and we have a growing catalogue of content, but what we don’t have is a change in mindset (yet). This change will happen, but it will take time and many more examples such as this one.

I used to be quite involved in (UK) government use and policy attitudes towards Free Software back when I worked at OpenAdvantage and have since stepped back from it quite a bit. I wonder what kind of policy changes and persuasions need to occur for the policy to be justification for NOT publishing free content as opposed to the current norm. Anyone have any insights into this?

  • mish

    Nice :)

    For what the government is doing with our data in the UK, check out the Free Our Data campaign site. They’re doing good stuff on trying to change attitudes in government.

  • http://bytesnbikes.org John Gill

    Great posting.

    I suspect that in a lot of cases people just don’t think. I’d guess that was the case with change.gov, and that once it was pointed out it was easy/obvious for them to change.

    More generally, I think this will be a slow process, but having examples like this one from Obama to point to really should be a huge help.

    One problem you are up against is that if people want to cover their behinds then “all rights reserved” is a good way to start — you can always open it up later, but going in the other direction is tough.

    However, there is an awful lot of content that clearly has no reason to be restricted and people should be making that judgment, particularly in the public sector.

    In government, people should be aware that over-classifying documents has costs. You can think of the copyright as being analogous to a security classification; as such, if it is too restrictive you incur a cost — essentially limiting the flow of the information you are trying to publish.

  • jono

    John Gill:

    I suspect that in a lot of cases people just don’t think. I’d guess that was the case with change.gov, and that once it was pointed out it was easy/obvious for them to change.

    I agree, I suspect this is the case too. Its always easier to have a policy of no as opposed to yes. This seems the first and primary problem that we need to fix.

    One problem you are up against is that if people want to cover their behinds then “all rights reserved” is a good way to start — you can always open it up later, but going in the other direction is tough.

    I guess this is where we need to think more carefully about not only the licensing but how different kinds of organisation make use of it. I wonder what it is about the range of CC licenses that would make them unsuitable. This strikes me as a useful thing for the CC to investigate. This could potentially result in either fixing the licenses or (and this is not my preferred approach) producing a new license that resolves these issues. Clearly we need to know about the problem first.

    In government, people should be aware that over-classifying documents has costs. You can think of the copyright as being analogous to a security classification; as such, if it is too restrictive you incur a cost — essentially limiting the flow of the information you are trying to publish.

    It strikes me here that the primary issue is education of government. Anyone from the CC reading this and want to clarify?

  • Mats Taraldsvik

    Well done!

    NRK, or Norwegian Broadcasting, are trying, at least. Their first step was to make a popular series available DRM-free via BitTorrent (english) earlier this year. What prevents them from making most content available is, not suprisingly, licensing. The licences simply haven’t caught up with this ‘internet’-thing.

    The next step is free and open licenses (hopefully also for NRK).

    Unfortunately, the music- and film industry is guilty of the ‘wrong mindset’. They don’t want to give everything away, and I understand that. The problem that this causes, though, is the general scepticism towards ‘free and open’ solutions and licenses which governments and the ordinary joe have adapted.

    There are numerous ‘sunshine’-stories and examples of great things that are not possible with closed licences. We need to shift the focus on free and open licenses from ‘What, just giving it away?’ to ‘The possibilites are endless!’. Or something.

  • ethana2

    <

    p>Yeah, I signed that pretty quickly; it’s good that things are being opened up like this; otherwise I wouldn’t be able to be as in-tune with what’s going on as I am; I don’t watch TV, I don’t own a Windows installation..

    <

    p>I never saw the olympics this year.

    I very much look forward to transparency Obama will bring to the US government, even if I would prefer a meritocratic omniarchy to a democratic republic ;)

  • http://digitasaru.net Joseph

    I thought, after talking with employees at a few national labs, that all things produced by government employees were public domain. Is this not the case?

  • http://www.fragdev.com Jacob Hume

    I run a local county government web site, and we also have a copyright notice at the bottom of our site. There wasn’t any real intention behind it – that’s just what I put at the bottom of all the sites I design for clients, so I threw it at the bottom of our page as a habit.

    I’ll have to look into some of the Creative Commons licenses, and see if I can apply one of them. Thanks!

  • jono

    Mats Taraldsvik:

    NRK, or Norwegian Broadcasting, are trying, at least. Their first step was to make a popular series available DRM-free via BitTorrent (english) earlier this year. What prevents them from making most content available is, not suprisingly, licensing. The licences simply haven’t caught up with this ‘internet’-thing.

    That really interesting. So it seems some broadcasters are open to the technology but it falls down at the licensing. I know the BBC are stepping forward with open content – see the new BBC Plugin that we developed for Totem. I should ask my friend at the beeb, George, to weigh in.

    Joseph:

    I thought, after talking with employees at a few national labs, that all things produced by government employees were public domain. Is this not the case?

    I guess the first question is – which country?

    Jacob Hume:

    I’ll have to look into some of the Creative Commons licenses, and see if I can apply one of them. Thanks!

    Nice! Do let us know how you get on! :)

  • Randall Wood

    If I recall correctly, the Government of the United States is incapable of copyrighting anything; everything it releases for unlimited distribution is automatically in the public domain, and is therefore not subject to any licenses.

    That said, I am not sure to what degree the US Government has to protect the copyrights of materials that it licenses; the need to protect the rights of non-government actors posting material on that site may have led to the copyright statement in the first place.

  • Ryan Singer

    I was about to post what Randall just said. I was Ninja’d.

    check out: http://techdirt.com/articles/20081202/0254512992.shtml

  • http://www.blaise.ca/ Blaise Alleyne

    I was about to post the Techdirt link too. It’s a good question though, in general, “why not use a free license?”, but the American government has adopted the public domain as the standard already. This is just an exception because Obama isn’t in the White House yet.

  • http://nancib.wordpress.com/2008/12/04/pengs-links-for-thursday-4-december/ Peng’s links for Thursday, 4 December « I’m Just an Avatar

    [...] Bacon: Governments And Free Content Policies. The current website for president-elect Obama used to protect their content with a traditional [...]

  • http://ecubuntu.com/?p=1690 Obama con los Latinos y con la Free Culture community |

    [...] Esta noticia me entere por medio del Blog de Jono Bacon. [...]