Open Source Licensing - Revisioning the Good

This morning I came across Stacy Cowley's article GPL 3: An Open Source Earthquake?. As a member of OGC Consortium, the group responsible for developing geospatial interoperability standards, I've suggested review of their standards' ownership, branding and licensing.

My nonprofit Urban Logic has championed the benefits to the democratic process of accessible, interoperable spatial data with the same analytic tools as government officials use for policymaking and enforcement. Electronic-Freedom of Information Act (E-FOIA) and state open public records laws fail to achieve their full promise of leveling the information playing fields used by government and industry, unless both
(a) data (an "agency record" as defined in most laws, sometimes limiting records to exclude data resold by governments), and
(b) a rudimentary portal for using and combining data,
exist for citizens, community groups, businesses, NGOs and sister governments to use to see and advocate stakeholder concerns.

Open source software has held the promise of putting into the public domain the tools needed for the second part of "information access."

Proprietary software and Web tools have expanded the free user experience for manipulating geospatial, spreadsheet, video, audio, text and other forms of content. The role of open source software license is often embedded in such Web tools and can make the difference in offering more robust Web features of interoperable computing to tap disparate databases.

Digital rights management (DRM) is increasingly embedded in software standards. DRM lets authors and handlers monetize traffic in data access and use (and implicitly, the identity or affinity of the user).

DRM could be used to meter what data users trust more in specific applications or use cases, for instance which map layers they ultimately use to get to a destination reliably or to find a restaurant there. This conceptually is more than a popularity contest of URL pageviews count. It's more semantically purposeful than merely browsing for a few good maps. It reflects the nature of patterned tasks, somewhat like LinkedIn permits finding highly-recommended people within your network of connections by reference to a known industry segment.

To date, I've yet to see a DRM application that pools users' experiences with data into "trusted in use" metrics and projects those trustworthiness ratings out as metadata fields to guide a semantic Web's more intelligent use of ever greater mountains of data. DRM too often is more of the old Web's economics, "waive your privacy, and we'll give you content."

We are seeing an evolution in societal and industry standards regarding three basic questions:
(a) what data will be available on the Web whose use will be DRM-tracked or free of DRM tracking,
(b) what software will be available to use that data and how much of that software will implement tentative vs permanent open source standards, and
(c) to what extent will private use of data be monitored and reflected anonymously, proprietarily or publicly.

I’ll be watching the GPL 3 and similar debates to track how fast and in which direction this evolution proceeds.

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