We spent a lot of time thinking about the license for the Kids Open Dictionary. Ultimately, we decided on public domain license, because we want this to be as easily usable by as many people as possible.

After announcing the dictionary on a few list-serv, we got some interesting feedback. First, many have wanted to know if the underlying software is available as open source. (The answer is that we intend to release it this way at some point, but we need to do some more work on it first. Also, it’s not very useful without the underlying database of definitions which needs to be created at a central site. Stay tuned….)

Secondly, there was a variety of input on the licensing. Some have objected to our public domain license, suggesting that a public domain license is not as “open” as a copyleft/sharealike license.

In my work with schools across the world, I’ve seen the challenges of sharealike licenses in restricting the ability to mix other content. Also, while I think sharing is good, I don’t feel compelled to force others to share. On a more practical level, with a dictionary, we want people to be able to mix and mash up this content with other content without the burden of thinking about license compatibility or even crediting a source. Glossaries are one of the most basic building blocks of many educational materials, and there are currently no sources (that we were able to find, after extensive research) that allow for low-burden reuse. Teachers have asked for this again and again, and in its absence, most are just stealing copyrighted content. That’s why we decided to spend so much of our own time to build this open dictionary.

I did get a very nice email from the folks at The Open Knowledge Foundation that prompted me to look at their definition of open. This seems to me to be a very broad and inclusive definition (and one that is developed in an open manner, something I see missing from many “open” committee-type meetings and discussions). It talks about issues like reuse, modifications, and technical format. It also says that in order to be open under their definition “[t]he license must not place restrictions on other works that are distributed along with the licensed work. For example, the license must not insist that all other works distributed on the same medium are open.”

I know that many will disagree with this. I just wish people could put a little of the energy they put into these discussions into writing a definition or two. :)

“What is open?” redux

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