Licensing Semantic Metadata

Data is not an easy subject to talk about, especially when doing it from an economic perspective. From all intangible assets imaginable, data is a highly controversial one, given that its economic characteristics are hard to describe and even more difficult to protect. But to own, to control, and to share data one needs to define policies that describe the conditions under which data can be (re-)used in various contexts and for various purposes. Licensing is one such policy that allows us to define data as an economic good. Accordingly, data licensing is crucial in the development of datadriven businesses as it defines the properties of data in a generic economic sense in the dichotomies of scarcity-abundance, private-public and rivaling-complementary. Licenses are an enabler and a barrier for economic transactions. They set the boundaries in which economic actions take place and they define the legitimate or illegitimate usage of data for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Beside licensing, technology as a constructivist framework for the creation and utilization of data plays an important role. Technology defines the good characteristics of data. According to this premise, it makes a difference whether data is generated manually or algorithmically; or optimized for syndication or storage within a silo etc. Technology influences the context in which data is being generated and utilized, thus changing the hermeneutic conditions under which data is being defined. It makes a difference, whether data is being treated as a solitary thing or linked for purposes of knowledge discovery and targeted insights. Hence it is crucial to gain a good understanding of the technology with which data has been generated to make economic sense out of it.

Traditional Protection Instruments for Intellectual Property

Semantic metadata is a fairly new kind of intellectual asset that is still subject to debate – concerning the adequate protection instruments [12]. Table 5 gives an overview on the applicability of various protection instruments. The table illustrates the complex nature of semantic metadata as intellectual property. Various instruments can be applied to various assets; while copyright, database right and competition right are the most relevant ones.

Copyright basically protects the creative and original nature of a literary work and gives its holder the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of the work. Hence, any literary work that can claim a sufficient degree of originality can be protected by copyright.

Database Right protects a collection of independent works, data or other materials, which have been created with considerable financial investment, are arranged in a systematic or methodological way and are individually accessible by electronic or other means. Databases are also protected as literary works and need to have a sufficient degree of originality that requires a substantial amount of investment.

An Unfair Practices Act protects rights holders against certain trade practices, which are considered unfair in terms of misappropriation, advertising, sales pricing or damages to reputation. Especially the first aspect is relevant to semantic metadata, which actually occurs, when data is being reused without appropriate compensation i.e. in terms of attribution or financial return.

Patenting protects the inventory aspects of a novel technical artefact. Hence it does not directly impact the protection of semantic metadata as – at least in Europe – patents can just be acquired for hardware-related inventions. But as soon as semantic metadata becomes an indispensable subject of a methodology that generates physical effects, has a sufficient level of inventiveness and can be exploited commercially, these components can be protected under Patent Law.

Table 5. IPR instruments for semantic metadata [9]

Copyright

Database right

Unfair practice

Patents

Documents

YES

YES

YES

NO

Dataset

NO

YES

PARTLY

NO

Description

YES

NO

YES

NO

Identifier

NO

NO

NO

NO

Name space

YES

YES

YES

NO

Vocabulary

PARTLY

YES

YES

NO

Classification

PARTLY

PARTLY

PARTLY

NO

Ontology

PARTLY

YES

YES

PARTLY

Rules

PARTLY

YES

YES

PARTLY

This overview conceals the fact that there exist regional differences in the practical application of IPR instruments. These differences and specificities of so called IPR regimes make the licensing of Linked Data a complex and sometimes confusing issue.

I.e. while in the USA data is generally protected under the US copyright law[1], the European Union additionally provides the instrument of Database Right[2] to fill certain gaps between the various national copyrights of the EU member states. Additionally while the US Patent Act[3] allows the patenting of software, which also includes collections of data as output of an algorithmic process; this is formally forbidden in Europe under Article 52 of the European Patent Convention[4].

This situation has long been scrutinized by critics of traditional IPR practices. On the one hand, the differences between the various regional regimes lead to judicial uncertainty. On the other hand, the overlapping and complementary protection instruments tend to favor an “overprotection” of intellectual assets that stifle competition and innovation and prevent the development of business models and new ways of value creation (i.e. [2, 3, 6, 11]).

As a reaction to these structural externalities of the traditional IPR system, new licensing instruments have emerged over the past few years that deliberately focus on the creative and self-governed re-purposing of intellectual property with the aim to foster innovation, collaborative creation of value and finally the public domain. These so called commons-based instruments – well known under Creative Commons and lately Open Data Commons – play an important role in the commercial and noncommercial appropriation of Linked Data and are an important part of a Linked Data licensing policy. Additionally, we will discuss the purpose of so called “community norms” as a third important component in Linked Data licensing policy.

  • [1] See copyright.gov/title17/, accessed July 10, 2013
  • [2] See eurlex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:31996L0009:EN:HTML, accessed July 10, 2013
  • [3] See law.cornell.edu/patent/patent.overview.html, accessed July 10, 2013
  • [4] See epo.org/law-practice/legal-texts/html/epc/2010/e/ma1.html, accessed July 10, 2013
 
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