Digital content may be licensed in an open way, but how open is its reuse and modification?

Today, digital content is created with software that uses an operating system running on top of physical hardware. Sometimes it is even manifested in physical reality via mobile device displays, point-of-sale screens, 3d-printers, etcetera. Each component in this chain may or may not be open and or free.

There are many types of hardware, operating systems, programming languages and pieces of software; all of which exist somewhere on the spectrum between free and non-free. Unfortunately, even a free license does not in and of itself guarantee that the content it licenses is open to further enhancement without accepting the End User License Agreement (EULA) of proprietary software should such software be required for opening and changing the content, as is the case with many document creation tools.

Indeed, the language and confusion surrounding Free, Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) is not always clear to professionals in the software industry, let alone to the poor souls trapped in userland.

A Simple Model

Today there are many methods for licensing content, but the strategies and rights that they endow vary widely in scope depending on whether operating systems, software, algorithms, databases or creative works are being licensed. This proposal is not about a new licensing scheme, but is rather a simple system for determining and communicating the degree to which content is open and the user is able to modify it.

°O is a rating that creators and publishers of content can use to inform the public about the degree of openness of the project. Conversely, the public is informed about the real openness of content and can decide whether or not to use, cite, modify or otherwise change it.

Put simply, the degree of openness is composed of five things:

  1. The permissiveness of the license of the content
  2. The media type(s) or medium used by the content
  3. The software needed for modification
  4. The operating system needed for the software
  5. The hardware upon which the operating system is installed

The following pdf is from a presentation that I made in Berlin 2016 and goes into much more detail about this proposal. Presentation