Distributed, Linked Data has significant implications for Intellectual Property Rights in Data.

What P2P networks have done for distribution of digital media is phenomenal. It is possible, easy even, to get almost any TV show, movie, track or album you can think of by searching one of the many torrent sites. As fast as the media industry take down one site through legal action another has appeared to take its place.

I don’t want to discuss the legal, moral or social implications of this, but discuss how the internet changes the nature of our relationship with media – and data. The internet is a great big copying machine, true enough, but it’s also a fabric that allows mass co-operation. It’s that mass peer-to-peer co-operation that makes so much content available for free; content that is published freely by its creator as well as infringing content.

Sharing of copyrighted content is always likely to be infringing on p2p networks, regardless of any tricks employed, but for data the situation may be different and the Linked Data web has real implications in this space.

Taking the Royal Mail’s Postcode Address File as my working example, because it’s been in the news recently as a result of the work done by ErnestMarples.com, I’ll attempt to show how the Linked Data web changes the nature of data publishing and intellectual property.

First, in case you’re not familiar, a quick introduction to Linked Data. In Linked Data we use http web addresses (which we call URIs) not only to refer to documents containing data but also to refer to real-world things and abstract concepts. We then combine those URIs with properties and values to make statements about the things the URIs represent. So, I might say that my postcode is referred to by the URI http://someorg.example.com/myaddress/postcode. Asking for that URI in the browser would then redirect you to a document containing data about my postcode, maybe sending you to http://someorg.example.com/myaddress/postcode.rdf if you asked for data and http://someorg.example.com/myaddress/postcode.html if you asked for a web page (that’s called content negotiation). All of that works today and organisations like the UK Government, BBC, New York Times and others are publishing data this way.

Also worth noting is the distinction between Linked Data (the technique described above) and Linked Open Data, the output of the W3C’s Linking Open Data project. An important distinction as I’m talking about how commercially owned and protected databases may be disrupted by Linked Data, whereas Linked Open Data is data that is already published on the web under an Open license.

Now, Royal Mail own the Postcode Address File, and other postcode data such as geo co-ordinates. They are covered in the UK under Copyright and Database Right (which for which bits is a different story) so we assume it is “owned”. The database contains more than 28 million postcodes, so publishing my own postcode could not be considered an infringement in any meaningful way, publishing the data for all the addresses within a single postcode would also be unlikely to infringe as it’s such a small fraction of the total data.

So I might publish some data like this (the format is Turtle, a way to write down Linked Data)

  a paf:Postcode;
  paf:correctForm "B37 7YB";
  paf:normalisedForm "b377yb";
  geo:long -1.717336;
  geo:lat 52.467971;
  paf:ordnanceSurveyCode "SP1930085600";
  paf:gridRefEast 41930;
  paf:gridRefNorth 28560;
  paf:containsAddress <http://someorg.example.com/myaddress/postcode#1>;
  paf:googleMaps <http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&source=hp&q=B377YB&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Birmingham,+West+Midlands+B377YB,+United+Kingdom&gl=uk&ei=Zs8HS_KVNNOe4QbIpITTCw&ved=0CAgQ8gEwAA&t=h&z=16>.

  a paf:Address;
  paf:organisationName "Talis Group Ltd";
  paf:dependentThoroughfareName "Knight's Court";
  paf:thoroughfareName "Solihull Parkway";
  paf:dependentLocality "Birmingham Business Park";
  paf:postTown "Birmingham";
  paf:postcode <http://someorg.example.com/myaddress/postcode>.

I’ve probably made some mistakes in terms of the PAF properties as it’s a long time since I worked with PAF, but it’s clear enough to make my point with. So, I publish this file on my own website as a way of describing the office where I work. That’s not an infringement of any rights in the data and perfectly legitimate thing to do with the address.

As the web of Linked Data takes off, and the same schema become commonly used for this kind of thing, we start to build a substantial copy of the original database. This time, however, the database is not on a single server as ErnestMarples.com was, but spread across the web of Linked Data. There is no single infringing organisation who can be made to take the data down again. If I were responsible for the revenue brought in from sales of PAF licenses this would be a concern, but not major as the distributed nature means it can’t be queried.

The distributed nature of the web means the web itself can’t be queried, but we already know how to address that technically – we built large aggregations of the web, index them and call them search engines. That is also already happening for the Linked Data web. As with the web of documents, some people are attempting to create general purpose search engines over the data and others specialised search engines for specific areas of interest. It’s easy to see that areas of value, such as address data, are likely to attract specialist attention.

Here though, while the individual documents do not infringe, an aggregate of many of them would start to infringe. The defence of crowd-sourcing used in other contexts (such as Open Street Map) does not apply here as the PAF is not factual data – the connection between a postcode and address can only have come from one place, PAF, and is owned by Royal Mail however it got into the database.

So, with the aggregate now infringing it can be taken down through request, negotiation or due process. The obvious answer to that might be for the aggregate to hold the URIs only, not the actual values of the data. This would leave it without a useful search mechanism, however. This could be addressed by having a well-known URI structure as I used in the example data. We might have

  owl:sameAs <http://someorg.example.com/myaddress/postcode>

This gets around the data issue, but the full list of postcodes itself may be considered infringing and they are clearly visible in the URIs. Taking them out of the URIs would leave no mechanism to go from a known postcode to data about it and addresses within it, the main use case for PAF. It doesn’t take long to make the link with other existing technology though, an area where we want to match a short string we know with an original short string, but cannot make the original short string available in clear text… Passwords.

Password storage uses one-way hashes so that the password is not available in its original form once stored, but requests to login can be matched by putting the attempted password through the same hash. Hashes are commonplace in the P2P world for a variety of functions, so are well-known and could be applied by an aggregator, or co-operative group, to solve this problem.

If I push the correct form of “B37 7YB” through MD5, I get “bdd2a7bf68119d001ebfd7f86c13a4c7”, but there is no way to get back from that to the original postcode. So a service that uses hashed URIs would not be publishing the postcode list in a directly useable form, but could be searched easily by anyone knowing how the URIs were structured and hashed.

  owl:sameAs <http://someorg.example.com/myaddress/postcode>

Of course, a specialist address service, advertising address lookups and making money could still be considered as infringing by the courts regardless of the technical mechanisms employed, but what of more general aggregations or informal co-operative sites? sameAs, a site for sharing sameAs statements, already provides the infrastructure that would be needed for a service like this and the ease with which sites that do this can be setup and mirrored would make it hard to defend against using the law in the same way that torrent listing sites are difficult for the film and music industries to stop. Regardless of the technical approach and the degree to which that provide legal and practical defence, this is still publishing data in a way that is against the spirit of Copyright and Database Right.

The situation I describe above is one where many, many organisations and individuals are publishing data in a consistent form and that is likely to happen over the next few years for common data like business addresses and phone numbers, but much less likely for less mainstream data. The situation with addresses is one where it is clear there is a reason to publish your individual data other than to be part of the whole, in more contrived cases where the only reason to publish is to contribute to a larger aggregate the notion of fair-use for a small amount of the data may not stand up. That is, over the longer term, address data will not be crowd-sourced – people deliberately creating a dataset – but web-sourced – the data will be on the web anyway.

We can see from this small example that the kinds of data that may be vulnerable to distributed publishing in this way are wide-ranging. The Dewey Decimal Classification scheme used by libraries, Telephone directories (with lookups in both directions), Gracenote’s music database, Legal case numbering schemes, could all be published this way. The problem, of course, is that the data has to be distributed sufficiently that no individual host can be seen as infringing. For common data this will happen naturally, but the co-ordination overhead for a group trying to do this pro-actively would be significant; though that might be solved easily by someone else thinking about how to do this.

As I see it a small group of unfunded individuals would have difficulty achieving the level of distribution necessary to be defensible. Though could 1% of a database be considered infringing? Could/Would 100 people use their existing domains to publish 1% of the PAF each? Would 200 join in for ½% each? Then, of course, there are the usual problems of trust, timeliness and accuracy associated with non-authoritative publication.

These problems not withstanding, Linked Data has the potential to provide a global database at web-scale. Ways of querying that web of data will be invented, what I sketch out above is just one very basic approach. The change the web of data brings has huge implications for data owners and intellectual property rights in data.

Government Data, Openness and Making Money

Over on the UK Government Data Developers group there’s been a great discussion about openness, innovation and how Government makes money from its data; and of course if it should make money. I can’t link to the discussion as the group is closed – sign up, it’s a great group.

Philosophically there’s always the stance that Government data has already been paid for by the public through general taxation.

Tim Berners-Lee even says so in his guest piece for Times Online.

This is data that has already been collected and paid for by the taxpayer, and the internet allows it to be distributed much more cheaply than before. Governments can unlock its value by simply letting people use it.

While that’s true, the role of Government is to maximise the return we get on our taxes so if more money can be made from the assets we have then surely we should.

This is where discussion breaks of into various arguments as to where on the spectrum licensing of Government data should sit, and how open to re-use it should be.

The discussion covers notions of Copyleft licensing, attribution, commercial and non-commercial use as well as models of innovation.

What I always come back to is the notion that to make money you have to have something that is not “open”, a scarce resource. I have a blog post talking about that in the context of software and the web that’s been drafted but not finished for some time, so I’m coming at this from a point of existing thinking.

To make money something has to be closed.

In the case of creative works, the thing that is closed is the right to produce copies (closed through Copyright law). An author makes money by selling that right (or a limited subset of it) to a publisher who makes money from exploiting the right to copy. The publisher has exclusivity.

In the case of open source software companies the dominant model is support and consultancy. They make money by exploiting the specialist knowledge they have in their heads – a careful balance exists for companies doing this between making the product great and needing the support revenue. This balance leads to other monetization strategies, like using the closed nature of being the only place to go for that software to sell default slots in the software (think search boxes), or advertising.

In the case of closed-source commercial software it is the code, the product itself, that remains closed.

Commercial organisations with data assets have to keep the data closed in order to make money. The Government, however, does not. The Government can give the data away for free because it has something else that is closed – the UK economy. To be a part of the (legitimate) UK economy you have to pay taxes, giving the UK a 20% to 40% share of all profits.

If people find ways to make money using Government data those taxes dwarf any potential licensing fee – can you imagine a commercial data provider asking for up to 40% of a company’s profit as the cost of a data license?

This is why it makes sense for the Government to make data available with as few restrictions as possible – ultimately that means Public Domain.

That seems to be the direction the mailing list is heading thanks to some great contributors. If open data, government data and innovation interest you then sign up and join in.

Schneier on Security: A Taxonomy of Social Networking Data

A Taxonomy of Social Networking Data

At the Internet Governance Forum in Sharm El Sheikh this week, there was a conversation on social networking data. Someone made the point that there are several different types of data, and it would be useful to separate them. This is my taxonomy of social networking data.

from Schneier on Security: A Taxonomy of Social Networking Data.

Follow the link for a useful breakdown of data in any community site or service.

Interview with the Twitter DJ Traktor App’s Co-Creator at djtechtools.com

On the surface, Twitter DJ seems like a gracious gesture from a DJ to solve the age-old problem of fans not knowing what the amazing track they’re hearing is called and who made it, as well as a boon for often small-time music producers to get some well-deserved props.

from Interview with the Twitter DJ Traktor App’s Co-Creator at djtechtools.com.

Nice integration of Traktor DJ software and Twitter – part of a growing trend that makes apps more native to the web.

How to Correctly Open a Banana

So, it turns out me and everyone I know have opened a Banana the wrong way our entire lives. I have always thought that banana’s could only be opened that one way and always been rejecting any other way of doing it. But the living learn and me included. When I watched this the first time I thought to myself that this guy has to be joking. What’s the joke in the whole clip…but how wrong I was. It actually turned out to be a much more efficient way of pealing the banana to get to the actual fruit.

from How to Correctly Open a Banana – Monkey… « Bit Rebels.

Amsterdam Tax on Internet to Support Newspapers

AMSTERDAM – A levy imposed Internet, with the proceeds benefiting innovation of traditional media like newspapers.

Dat is een van de aanbevelingen van de commissie-Brinkman, die zich in opdracht van minister Ronald Plasterk (Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschappen) boog over de toekomst van de Nederlandse dagbladsector. This is one of the recommendations of the committee Brinkman, who is in command of Minister Ronald Plasterk (Education, Culture and Science) arc about the future of the Dutch newspaper industry.

Volgens het rapport, dat dinsdag in Den Haag wordt gepubliceerd, moet worden gedacht aan een “opslag van enkele euro’s per jaar op de internetaansluiting voor de Nederlandse huishoudens”. According to the report Tuesday in The Hague that is published should be given to a “storage of a few euros per year on the Internet for the Dutch households. De maatregel kan ongeveer 20 miljoen euro opleveren. The measure could yield around 20 million euros.

Google Translation: Tax on Internet to support newspapers.

This is an interesting quandary. Should new technology be taxed to support business models that get disrupted to evolve?

I’m not actually sure that’s what they’re suggesting. One of the problems that newspapers face is that there is no good way for them to charge. With the notable exception of the New York Times, newspapers have found they have to publish articles online and have no way to make up for the loss in revenue from their print business.

If this money props up failing newspapers then that would be bad, but if it is invested in developing a working, de-centralised micropayments approach that would be a good thing.

Sharing and re-use of catalogue records: what are the legal implications? : Information Environment Team

The records in a university library catalogue typically have many different origins: created by the library, obtained from a national library or a book supplier etc. So, who ‘owns’ them? And what are the legal implications of making them available to others when this involves copying, transferring them into different formats, etc.?

The JISC has just commissioned a study to explore some of these issues as they apply to UK university libraries and to provide practical guidance to library managers who may be interested in making their catalogue records available in new ways. Outcomes are expected by the end of 2009.

from Sharing and re-use of catalogue records: what are the legal implications? : Information Environment Team.

Vanish: Enhancing the Privacy of the Web with Self-Destructing Data

Computing and communicating through the Web makes it virtually impossible to leave the past behind. College Facebook posts or pictures can resurface during a job interview; a lost or stolen laptop can expose personal photos or messages; or a legal investigation can subpoena the entire contents of a home or work computer, uncovering incriminating or just embarrassing details from the past.

Vanish is a research system designed to give users control over the lifetime of personal data stored on the web or in the cloud. Specifically, all copies of Vanish encrypted data — even archived or cached copies — will become permanently unreadable at a specific time, without any action on the part of the user or any third party or centralized service.

from Vanish: Enhancing the Privacy of the Web with Self-Destructing Data.

Communities and Collaboration » Why are Government and Local Councils still using IE6?

Steve Dale pushing question of why local and central government is still using IE6.

The latest information on IE6 market share is just over 12%. I’m betting that a good proportion of this 12% is public sector workers who continue to be poorly served by their IT departments and CIOs who don’t see the browser as being an important component in improving user productivity.

from Communities and Collaboration » Why are Government and Local Councils still using IE6?.

Putting Government Data online – Design Issues

Government data is being put online to increase accountability, contribute valuable information about the world, and to enable government, the country, and the world to function more efficiently. All of these purposes are served by putting the information on the Web as Linked Data. Start with the “low-hanging fruit”. Whatever else, the raw data should be made available as soon as possible. Preferably, it should be put up as Linked Data. As a third priority, it should be linked to other sources. As a lower priority, nice user interfaces should be made to it — if interested communities outside government have not already done it. The Linked Data technology, unlike any other technology, allows any data communication to be composed of many mixed vocabularies. Each vocabulary is from a community, be it international, national, state or local; or specific to an industry sector. This optimizes the usual trade-off between the expense and difficulty of getting wide agreement, and the practicality of working in a smaller community. Effort toward interoperability can be spend where most needed, making the evolution with time smoother and more productive.

from Tim Berners-Lee Putting Government Data online – Design Issues.