Bryan Lawrence : Legal Stuff

Bryan Lawrence

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Legal Stuff

I've already been talking about the legal implications of open source software on our activities here at the BADC (here and here). Some initial feedback is that apparently the GPL is just as liable as the MIT license under UK law ...

We've also been told to be worried about legal liability of the use of our data, and we need to put a legal disclaimer on the web site about data use (never mind software use). Given that all our data is currently only for research, it is difficult to see what we could be liable for, but times are a changing ...

Of course, even this blog is a grey area (a colour the Law hates). In principle, I have no intellectual property rights to my work, they are all owned by the CCLRC, and so therefore is the copyright to this website. However, having the copyright to this blog owned by the CCLRC is simply unenforceable - Imagine I put (C) CCLRC below, and so did one thousand other employees (unlikely, but possible). What are you going to do in the event you want to copy some material from this site? Ask the CCLRC? Why would you, it's obviously designed to be public (else why would it be on the web)? Well, maybe you like what I write so much, you want to aggregate it all, I do after all offer an Atom feed, so I'm implying you can. There is a bit of a controversy raging about that (see Tim Bray and Scobleizer both of whom are responding to Martin Schwimmer). Tim's summary sounds good to me:

It seems to me the right solution is obvious; rewrite things to apply a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license to the syndication feeds, while retaining Attribution-NonCommercial coverage for the full text ...

Of course, you may want to so something not covered by that license (or whatever license I get around to putting here). In that case, perhaps you do want to ask the copyright holder whether you can do something with material on this website (stick it in a book for example - but see below). It would be an unfeasible concept for the CCLRC to have oversight on all the websites here, let alone the blogs we might have, but it is feasible for me to have oversight of my work. It makes sense therefore for me to indicate that I can allow you to make a copy for some further purpose, and I do so by having a personal copyright statement (I would argue that morally, if not legally - see below - I'm doing so on behalf of the CCLRC, exactly as I do when I sign a copyright statement to publish an academic paper).

I know that the last paragraph would be risible to a lawyer, but then so is common sense ... Amusingly, I have had dealings with two different lawyers from the one law firm: one says that I can give you permission to use data on behalf of the CCRLC, one says I can't give you software because I'm not the IPR manager or the director of the CCLRC or whatever ...). Both data and documents/software are forms of IPR ... what gives? (From the first solicitor's point of view, the argument was that you can't know who at the CCLRC has legal authority to sign on behalf of the CCLRC, so if I do something I'm not allowed to do, that's CCLRC's problem not yours). The bottom line here is what is practical: it's simply not practical for the IPR management team at CCLRC to a) vet all our web sites, and b) choose the appropriate license terms and/or c) decide on specific rights cases. We need to discriminate between things that are worth corporate oversight, and things that are not. One way is for me to assert that I can give you rights to copy this information, and I do so by saying the site is copyright to me on behalf of the CCLRC. Until someone comes up with a practical alternative, this site will remain copyright to me (or someone makes me change it).

Anthologies, ie books, versus aggregation, ie the web: at our legal workshop we talked about books of poetry: the copyright to each poem is owned by the author and there is copyright for the anthology also. This implies to me that an aggregation would be in the same category except for one key difference: for rss/atom aggregation you've obtained the poem (data/software) from the web subject to whatever license I provided, if it doesn't allow you to create a book, then you can't. In the case of a book (or anything else not covered by the license by which your read this site or the text aggregated from it), you need me (technically the CCLRC) to give you those rights.

However, even for the automatic case, the concept that my output can be controlled by any part of central management is exposed for the silliness it is. Regardless of who I claim has copyright of my thinking, by putting a feed on this, I'm allowing a remote computer to aggregate information without human intervention at either end. I'm sure that legally, the person who runs the server doing the aggregation, could be in violation of copyright law if I'm not allowed to publish a feed ... the question is then, should the CCLRC allow me to have a feed? (Actually whether it's from a corporate web site or not doesn't matter, given what I want to blog about, it wouldn't matter if I did it on an external provider, the CCLRC still owns my output).

Coming back to full circle, if we look at Tim's statement suggesting having a different license on his feed, there is a real issue for the legal system and commercial (automatic) aggregators to deal with: the computer that is doing the aggregating doesn't read the license statements on individual blog sites ... so how can it respect commercial versus non-commercial aggregation unless there is a person in the loop, or we have machine readable licenses?

Categories: curation badc

This page last modified Thursday 27 January, 2005
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