Managing Licenses in an Open Access Community

by Renato Iannella

A new project from National ICT Australia (NICTA) and Queensland University of Technology (QUT), called 'Open Access to Knowledge (OAK), aims to address the emerging needs of the open access community in licensing content.

In particular, OAK will be developing a set of legal requirements and generic licenses that can be used to negotiate and transact (ie share) digital content in an online environment. Technically, the OAK project will develop robust Rights Expression Language (REL) models and Profiles of the machine-readable Open Digital Rights Language (ODRL). OAK will implement technological mechanisms to improve open access and management through the application of these license protocols and services to existing digital repositories.

The Creative Commons (CC) has provided worldwide interest in simple licensing of content for the open access communities. The range of CC license templates have addressed the legal and community awareness needs for content licensing. The mapping of the standard licenses to other countries legal regimes has ensured the international impact of CC. However, there are still some legal and technical issues that remain a challenge and these will be investigated in the OAK Project.

Some of the legal issues are compounded by the lack of technical solutions. For example, the need to keep the licenses attached or associated with the content at all times is difficult to implement generically across all media types. And the failure of this at any point in the distribution of the content will breach the license conditions, and may result in licensed content being re-distributed without proper knowledge of the license conditions.

The CC REL is a compact rendering of the semantics of the legal licenses. In most cases the REL captures the broad license conditions, such as the right to produce derivatives, or prohibits commercial usage. However, in some cases, the REL does not capture these semantics. For example, in the CC Sampling licenses the legal code is clear that you cannot use the work for advertising but there is no corresponding constraint semantics in the CC REL.

One of the major technical hurdles for the CC licenses is the lack of extensibility of its machine-readable REL. For example, a recent report from the UK Common Information Environment (CIE) on the use of Creative Commons in the public and education sectors raised a number of areas where the CC licenses lacked support, including:

In general there are no mechanisms for CC licenses to be tailored to specific needs of some communities, which could impact on the uptake and broader use of CC style licenses. The ODRL Initiative and the Creative Commons have jointly developed a Profile of the CC REL semantics that have been mapped into the more expressive ODRL REL. This Profile does enable greater extensibility and provides semantic structures to extend the reach of the template licenses.

The OAK Project will build on the emerging new intellectual property rights model being developed for ODRL Version 2.0 that provides new features (such as Duties and Prohibitions) and supports a wider range of License types. Another objective of this project will be to investigate software solutions to support the ODRL Profiles developed for open content repositories. These will include protocols to support negotiation of licenses between parties.

Most license management systems today are focussed on the distribution of commercial and consumer-oriented content, such as music to mobile phones. The motive of the OAK project is to investigate the legal, semantic, and technical issues of licensing content in the creative industry communities. That is, communities that support a high level of sharing (eg research, science, and education) without a strict requirement for enforcement of content usage, but still requiring intellectual property rights to be maintained, honored, and managed. This project will be of immediate benefit to these communities in that it will increase the ability to access a vast array of content and research material. In an environment where access to knowledge is increasingly important to quality of life and career advancement this will provide an important resource to the broader community of knowledge consumers.


Please contact:
Renato Iannella, Program Leader, National ICT Australia (NICTA)
Tel: +61 7 3000 0484