Why Public Domain?

Acclar hereby releases the content of this blog into the Public Domain.  You are free to do anything you want with these writings, for any purpose, without our permission.  We offer these writings to the public with NO WARRANTY of any kind.

Since Acclar is an open aid data organization, it would be hypocritical not to make our blog (and other, future resources on our site) available as open content.  But you might notice that we’re doing things a bit differently — most open-content web sites use an open-content license, such as the Gnu Free Documentation License or the Creative Commons Attribution License.  We believe that these licenses represent a huge step forward in making information available for an open and transparent society, but they represent only a step, not the final destination.

An “open” license, whether for open-source software, open data, or open content, still attempts to do two things:

  1. enforce a copyright on a resource; and
  2. limit what users can do with the resource.

With an open license, the limitations are generally fairly benign — users are required to give attribution, and sometimes to share their changes on to others — but they still reflect an urge for control, and a mild discomfort around the act of sharing.

Public domain, on the other hand, isn’t a license at all — it’s a complete surrender of all legal rights over a work.  When we release our blog into the public domain, it has no copyright and no legal owner.  Of course, we hold onto ethical rights (shame on you if you plagiarize us and pretend you wrote these postings, and it’s nice to give us credit when you reprint or quote us), but we give up any claim to enforce those in a court of law.

We believe that going all the way to public domain has two significant benefits:

  • people don’t have to waste time worrying about whether they’re complying with the terms of a license, so they will use our content more quickly and more often; and
  • a license is a threat to sue if someone violates its terms, and we don’t think threats are nice (Canadians worry a lot about being nice).

One of Acclar’s founders, David Megginson, has had two positive experiences with public-domain sharing in the past, with the Simple API for XML (SAX) and the OurAirports.com open-data aviation web site.  In both cases, the public-domain information caught on quickly and found a large number of users and (re)implementers, and — despite the fact that there was no license requiring it — people in blogs, magazine articles, books, apps, etc. have been very gracious about attribution.

The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) Licensing Standard strikes a good balance, by allowing a participant to use an open-data license or release aid data directly into the public domain.  At Acclar, we believe that any sharing of open aid data, licensed or public domain, is a good thing for aid transparency and effectiveness.

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