Museums and the Web

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You are heremuseums, licensing and cc+

museums, licensing and cc+

here's the rationale -- and history -- behind my interest in the cc+ framework. something that i think museums should be looking seriously at. it was spurred by an exchange on the MCG list and still bears a bit of that context in its tone.

i've been closely involved in a number of initiatives that explored licensing of museum content, starting with the Museum Educational Site Licensing Project (MESL) in 1994 (pre-web), through the creation and ultimate demise of AMICO (a museum-directed no-for-profit that licensed art museum content for broad educational use, on a cost-recovery basis). i've written a bit about the complex nature of museum ip, and the benefits of licensing [see for a list of papers; go back to 1996 for the most relevant]. i think we [nick poole] agree on a lot of things -- except maybe my name ;)

where we diverge is in the recognition of the role of transaction costs the ip economy. they are often overlooked (particularly in the cultural heritage sector where labour is 'free'). the costs of negotiating one-off licenses for widely accepted uses simply aren't sustainable. indeed, for many museums, the costs of saying 'yes' to educational users -- whose uses they want to encourage -- are significant (even if 'all' you are counting is an hour of staff time and some postage, these add up). when we think about encouraging broad use, across a range of sectors -- think higher education, primary and secondary education, public libraries, independent scholars, other museums, just as a start -- this way of doing business simply is not sustainable. it may even impede museums' goals.

recognising this, the museums in AMICO developed a set of standard licenses that could be used in each of these contexts (still on-line at for defined user communities, and defined uses, standard terms apply. this is 'off the rack'; there's no need for custom tailoring, and indeed, it wasn't accommodated. the system worked at a reasonable cost because terms simply were not re-negotiated. legal review was done up-front during the development of the agreements, and not repeated with every license. hundreds of thousands of museum works have been licensed for millions of users under these terms (and indeed still are in places like the state of Ohio in business relationships that succeed the demise of that consortium).

the amico agreements were written at about the same time as the first cc agreements, and we had tentative conversations about finding ways to bring the two together. but at that time, the cc group wasn't interested in complicating their licensing universe, and didn't see the need for different kinds of agreements for different sectors. that's changed: c.f. the bbc creative archive license [] the open data commons [] and cc+ []

cc+ offers a framework for tailoring cc-based agreements to specific sectoral needs. for example, a cc attribution, noncommercial, no derivative works license could be 'plused' to include limited publications rights in scholarly journals [the V&A and the Met have found ways to define 'scholarly journal' that they are comfortable with. i think the sector could manage an agreement on this]. in effect, this is saying 'yes' at low cost to uses that museums regularly approve and often subsidize. [there are other questions about fees for services like new photography, but that's not the focus of this discussion. indeed this isn't a discussion about fees at all.]

cc-based agreements offer a real bonus to the museum community, because they are widely recognised and understood. this is critical. museums are notoriously difficult to do business with (just read the lists of the art historians and other users if you want to hear about lengthy response times, inconsistent replies, and contradictory terms). a cc+ based scholar's publication agreement could readily satisfy this community's needs across the board, in a way that served all involved. and if there are other places, like teachers packs at the powerhouse, where existing cc agreements work, that's great. again, a recognised set of terms are offered, and the museum doesn't have to negotiate and re-negotiate.

what's important here, is that museums figure out how to enable ready use in communities they want to serve, and reserve their limited resources for negotiation in contexts where it really matters.


p.s. and no licensing framework, whatever it is, will remove the need for good ip management within an institution.

p.p.s. we freely distribute Museums and the Web papers on-line under CC [attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives] + people still buy the books...