CC0 Is Lazy and Dangerous.

Much talk, recently, has occured surrounding licensing museum data using a Creative Commons Zero license (CC0).  Said license is characterized almost as an anti-license, This license type is popular for its apparent lack of restriction and “simplicity”.  The Creative Commons folks describe it as:

Using CC0, you can waive all copyrights and related or neighboring rights that you have over your work, such as your moral rights (to the extent waivable), your publicity or privacy rights, rights you have protecting against unfair competition, and database rights and rights protecting the extraction, dissemination and reuse of data.

Keep in mind that you cannot waive rights to a work that you do not own unless you have permission from the owner. To avoid infringing third party rights, you should consult with your legal advisor if you are unsure whether you have all the rights you need to distribute the work.

Please note that this is not a registration process and Creative Commons does not store or save any of the information you enter. This tool guides you through the process of generating HTML with embedded metadata for marking your work as being available under CC0. Your work will not be associated with CC0 or made available under CC0 until you publish it marked as being so.

This is fine and good in many instances, particularly when posting code snippets online.. if you really are posting it to share it with others, what better way to enable easy and hassle-free use?

I Care About Museum Data

CC0 is deceptive.  On the surface, it appears to be maximally permissive: anyone can use it for anything at any time for any reason.  Sounds awesome!  I like Freedom!  Let Freedom Ring! We’re museums, organizations that are notorious for not having resources necessary to serve every audience overstepping copyright boundaries and being big jerks to everyone, particularly an audience of folks who are clamoring for museum data sets and permissively licensed images.

(It should be noted that the estimated number of people clamoring for Museum data has been estimated just north of 12 people this year, an all-time high!)

So, wait, why is CC0 bad?  Oh yeah.  CC0 is maximally permissive from the perspective of the end-user.  For folks that want to use data, this is the best choice, because no one can restrict it, and they are under no obligation to do anything beyond providing the data.  The problem comes with respect to the perspective of the data itself.

Share Alike is More Open Than CC0

With Share-Alike licensed data and data-sets, the number of restrictions placed on the data sets are minimally and maximally 1 restriction.  The only restriction is that it cannot be restricted.  With CC0, there is no obligation to keep data unrestricted, so from first modification onwards, there exists a potential restriction.  As one moves across the generations of the data set in the wild, the Share-Alike data set stays at 1 restriction, while the CC0 licensed work succumbs to a wide variety of potential restrictions, rapidly approaching an unmanageable level after only a few short generations.

If museums are truly committing to Open, we need to commit to it in a big way.  We need to commit to Open as the principle and contract by which we share our data, particularly because it best benefits our users over the long-term, but also because it benefits our collection.  Last I checked, benefitting the collection was also a top priority.  It’s our responsibilities to make the best technology choices to support the institution, and I’m loathe to find a scenario where CC0 ends up being a safer, better, more rewarding decision than a simple share-alike license.  A SA clause clearly indicates that the spirit of openness with museum content is expected to be maintained through others uses, regardless if they be commercial, educational, personal or whatever.

There will surely be partners (cough, Google) who will balk at the thought of using Share-Alike licensed data.  Or there are scenarios where by a share-alike prohibits a specific bit of progress you’re keen to see.  When encountering these scenarios, as a rights holder you maintain the right to separately license certain bits of data to certain entities with different rules.  Perhaps the value proposition of something like the Google Art Project is too great to ignore.  There are still ways of selectively making those deals work while still communicating your obvious intent with respect to collection data and digital surrogates.

In Summary

So, does easy, hassle-free use trump other factors with Museum data?  I would argue: absolutely not.  We have a responsibility to our institutions to make the right decisions for them, and that decision is to include and require a share-alike clause in conjunction with providing open data.  It is our obligation to make the correct long term decision for the items comprising our collection.  Considering the undeniable benefits to object care afforded by cataloging and data, making a strong effort to ensure that data is always as great as it could get.  Is it harder to conceptualize?  Maybe.  Does it have a big enforcement footprint?  Not really, you don’t even have to enforce it, as it isn’t a trademark, and therefore requires no enforcement to affect its legal status.

I’m very curious (and frankly, suspicious) of museum professionals that deem Share-Alike licenses to be harmful.. in what scenarios?  Are there even any?

Oh, and use this instead