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In Search of Mash-Up Licensing

Every so often I am fortunate enough to be invited to participate (as speaker or facilitator) in a conference or summit that is focused on rights and licensing within industries outside of the usual suspects of music and media. However, it is generally pretty much the same in terms of the key challenges with getting stakeholders to agree the best ways to tackle this most pressing issue. So what was so different about the recent OGC Summit at MIT in Boston?

For one thing it was pleasant surprise to discover a sincere effort, by the good people of the Open Geo Spatial Consortium (OGC), to open up the debate to outsiders like myself and such experts as DRM Guru, Bill Rosenblatt; XACML Evangelist, Hal Lockhart; and other key speakers from related communities like the Science Commons and W3C. This was done deliberately to inject external but relevant perspectives into their deliberations (I think it has to do with the “Open” in their title). In any case I found it an interesting day’s event, full of enthusiastic participation by delegates and speakers, with some key take-outs, from my point-of-view, that include:

  • GeoData Exploitation – GeoRM poses unique challenges to the established world of Intellectual Property, eCommerce, Usage and Control, mainly because Geographical Data is a specific type of factual data, which is not in itself liable to copyright protection. However, the packaging, presentation and application of the data (which extends to the exciting world of Location Based Services) is definitely worth protecting and exploiting, hence the efforts by the OGC to nail this area before it becomes fragmented and uncontrollable is too late
  • Mash-Up Licensing – The direction of progress, in all likelihood, points towards a definitive move away from static to dynamic content usage, and from paper-based to electronic rights management (as highlighted by Graham Vowles – chair of the GeoRM WG in his opening address). This indicates a forward look towards the potential to licence dynamic electronic applications and usage scenarios which are as yet undreamt hence the term “Mash-up licensing”.
  • Shades of control – after much debate over the impracticality of predicting future user intent or consumer behaviours, it quickly became clear that the issue of managing access to Geodata would require a gradient or shades of access and control that varies from consumers (i.e. lower controls) to more rigid forms for commercial enterprise / professional / government users. This neatly helps to focus efforts where the value lies (i.e. commercial usage), and to maximise the viral / social benefits derived from ordinary users (i.e. free advertising / capturing hearts & minds)

The second part of the day was devoted to finding the best ways forward / next steps towards establishing and developing a standardised model for encoding Geo rights models in a way that it will enable interoperability between the diverse licensing models used / required by different communities. The consensus was:

  1. to open up the debate via a forum that promotes greater dialogue between communities, and which will not just focus on technology but also the business requirements;
  2. To create a test bed for trying out these candidate models in a safe and trusted environment; and to create use cases for each domain in order to identify commonalities that would be used to make up the standard.
  3. Finally, to acknowledge that although a difficult undertaking, it is well worth it, even if it is “just for the common good” –a sentiment / motivation that the scientific community would certainly subscribe to!

So in all, it was a very useful exercise and one which when kicked off will possibly lead the way for other industries to emulate in resolving rights management issues from the front. If the only thing that results from this summit is the adoption of a bill of rights on geospatial data, (e.g. see O’Reilly’s post on Health Data Rights here) then it would be a job well done.


Note: This post was previously published on my BCS DRM Blog, where you can find the original post, and reader comments, in the archives.

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