Is Putting Change.gov Under Creative Commons Really A Big Deal?

from the help-me,-I'm-missing-something... dept

There’s been plenty of attention paid to the news that the website for President-Elect Obama’s transition team, Change.gov has been placed under a Creative Commons license, allowing others to make use of the content with attribution. However, I’m a bit hard pressed to see how this actually is a big deal. The whole thing is made a bit odd by the fact that federal government content is not covered by copyright, so anything that comes out of the White House is in the public domain. But, apparently since Obama has not yet been inaugurated, the campaign can still claim copyright on the content. But, why would they? Rather than going with a CC license, why not go all the way and put the content in the public domain? After all, in two months, all such content will be in the public domain anyway? It seems a little odd, counterproductive and unnecessary to add more restrictions to the content than there will be once Obama is actually in office. If the Obama team really wanted to do something meaningful concerning the content on the site, they could follow the advice of Tim O’Reilly and go beyond just putting the content in the public domain and also add revision control, thereby committing to alerting people to any changes to the content. Now, that would be an impressive change.

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Comments on “Is Putting Change.gov Under Creative Commons Really A Big Deal?”

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16 Comments
Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

They want to control the content

Obama has already shown he will not tolerate people that don’t agree with him.

http://www.drudgereport.com/flashopp.htm

He is a socialist by nature so his first inclination is always going to be to control what the media says about him.

I could site over 100 examples of this in the campaign but really Techdirt readers already know this.

Fred Benenson (user link) says:

User generated content and CC

Good question Mike.

Putting aside the issue of whether Obama’s transition 501(c)4 corporation is entitled to copyright protection, the CC license choice matters for another reason: the general public should have the right to use the work created by citizens that is submitted to the site.

Because Change.gov now requires that all work be licensed under CC’s Attribtuion license, it clears the way for the government and other citizens to build upon it without complications.

Instead of creating an onerous one-off Terms of Service forcing users to abdicate exclusive rights to their content, Change.gov simply drew a line in the sand (as Wikipedia and other free culture communities do) and ask users to agree to letting their work be free.

This policy also avoids asking thousands of citizens to relinquish all control over their work to the public domain.

Fred Benenson
Outreach Manager, Creative Commons

Just Another Moron in a Hurry (profile) says:

Credit where credit is due

Does the pre-campaign information become Public Domain when he takes the whitehouse, or does only any future information become public domain?

I would speculate that the reason they went with CC is that a lot of the people who contributed want their name to get out there, so allowing the use of their work with attribution helps them, by making their name more recognizable. So in 4 years, when its time for another campaign, they can get a job easier with one of the lead dogs.

“Look at me. I helped put Obama in the white house. I can do the same for you.”

Mark Murphy (profile) says:

I'm Surprised You Even Have To Ask The Question

Some of the “restrictions” you mention are pretty damn important for private citizens, such as “5. Representations, Warranties and Disclaimer” and “6. Limitation on Liability”.

Nobody of sound mind and body should be putting anything in the public domain unless they are somehow covered against liability for doing so. Our society is too litigious, and while stock warranty disclaimers are fairly thin as a defense, they’re better than nothing.

Given that, the CC-Attribution license has the fewest restrictions of any of the CC licenses, and it’s probably better to use a CC license than to whip up yet another license.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: I'm Surprised You Even Have To Ask The Question

Some of the “restrictions” you mention are pretty damn important for private citizens, such as “5. Representations, Warranties and Disclaimer” and “6. Limitation on Liability”.

Nobody of sound mind and body should be putting anything in the public domain unless they are somehow covered against liability for doing so. Our society is too litigious, and while stock warranty disclaimers are fairly thin as a defense, they’re better than nothing.

What an incredibly sad statement.

No offense, but to me that’s the death of the entire reason for public domain works, to claim that putting stuff in the public domain leads to liability. I sincerely hope the world never actually reaches such a ridiculous point. That would truly be a sad state of affairs.

Mark Murphy (profile) says:

Re: Re: I'm Surprised You Even Have To Ask The Question

to claim that putting stuff in the public domain leads to liability

More accurately, failing to disclaim liability leaves you less protected than if you do disclaim liability. Since public domain offers no means of disclaiming liability (AFAIK), public domain is a riskier proposition than choosing a liberal license that contains warranty disclaimers.

I have had multiple “intellectual property” attorneys tell me as much with respect to public domain software — you are better served using a liberal license that contains the warranty disclaimer. It won’t harm use of the software, and you have at least some measure of protection against liability suits. While I can see greater odds of liability suits with “active” written works like software than ordinary prose, the principle still holds.

If you feel that CC-Attribution is still too restrictive, I encourage you to work with the Creative Commons to cook up a warranty-disclaimer-only license.

I sincerely hope the world never actually reaches such a ridiculous point. That would truly be a sad state of affairs.

Um, we’ve been there since the invention of copyright and liability. All that’s changed are the odds and impacts.

Dave says:

Clarification

According to Wikipedia, “[US Government] works are not entitled to domestic copyright protection under U.S. law”.

Presumably this means that works produced by the US government are still protected by copyright in other countries. Placing Change.gov under a CC license would mean other people around the world are able to use it as well, not just Americans.

John (profile) says:

Copyrighted by Default

As mentioned much of the material was not originally created by the federal government. Thus by default under current US copyright law it is copyrighted by default. Applying a CC license to the material simply means that there can be no argument about anyone being able to use the materials. No arguments about what is or isn’t fair use, etc.

What this really all means, as mentioned by others, is that there is someone in or working for the new administration that “gets it” when it comes to the modern internet world and economy.

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