Open content is content (images, text, audio, video, etc) which is licensed in such a way that content users can also be content reusers. All open content may be legally redistributed by users and in many cases derivative works may be distributed as well.
There are a number of content licences which are commonly considered "Open," but unlike open source, there is no single body has stepped forward to build a consensus on the core elements of an open source licence. Notable open content licences include:
The Creative Commons family of licences
The Creative Archive Licence used by the BBC
The GNU Free Documentation licence
The Linux Documentation Project licence
The open source licences, which are typically used for the documentation accompanying the open source software.
Of these licences, the Creative Commons family is by far the most widely used outside techie circles.
Contrasts with open source
Open Content is content released under an open licence, in the same way that Open Source is source code released under an open licence.
Many of the licensing issues involved in open content resemble those in the open source world. Issues of attribution, commercial use, multiple authorship, derivative works, trademarks, sampling and compilation are common to both. Issues of automatic and manual linguistic translation are restricted to open content, while issues of machine compilation and patenting are restricted to open source.
As with open source licences, most open content licences are concerned solely with copyright licensing rather than licensing design rights, patents, or personal consent.
Just as open source has the politically motivated free software movement, which rejects the notion of ownership of cultural artifacts, open content has the politically motivated Libre Society which "rejects the legalistic and 'culture as resource' position of the Creative Commons and instead hope to develop a concept of the creative multitude through political action and ethical practices." It is, however, not widely supported.
As with open source, there are a number of resources to the law covering various aspects of open content. For example the rights and wrongs of taking photographs in the UK and the USA and legal issues in Open Archives. None of these are legal advice, but they highlight what the issues are.
Motivations for producing open content
There are a number of distinct motivations for producing material and releasing it under an open content licence. Special-interest groups including some scholarly publishers and subject-specific educational groups aim to increase the level of awareness of, and interest in, a subject. Open content is a method for them to get their content to as broad a readership as possible and explicitly encourage interested parties to adapt and redistribute the content. Scholarly publishers are very concerned with attribution because peer recognition is key to the scholarly process, but educational groups are less concerned with it.
The Budapest Open Access Initiative is a position paper and program of action centered on the arguement that open content is a cheaper and more efficient method of distributing academic outputs than those traditionally used.
Teachers and educationalists aim to provide content which matches both the curriculum being taught and the needs of their learners. Ideally content should be reusable (or repurposeable, reusable after minor modifications), across several institutions, years or courses. Teachers and educationalists tend to be relatively unconcerned with attribution, but their institutions (who would like to see quality content raise their profile and prestiedge) tend to be more oncerned with it.
Members of communities such as flickr and wikipedia are motivated primarily by peer recognition and by quality (both improving the quality of their own contributions and collective work). Attribution plays an important role in promoting peer recognition, in flickr this is done via technical and licensing means, but in wikipedia, all attribution is done via technical means (logs of changes, talk pages, etc.) and redistributors are in no way required to attribute any individual contributors.
Collaborations (of individuals or of institutions) have issues with who owns which outputs of their collaboration. By co-mingling their ownership and explicitly licensing the outputs under an open content licence, all parties know, up front, what they can do with various outputs.
Commercial companies can either release open content as part of a business model which generates revenue via services (in which case they may wish to prevent their direct competitors from republishing their material and are concerned with attribution), or by a result of contracting to do work for other parties (in which case the contract may stipulate a licence).
The paper Let's Free IT Support Materials! provides a case study of a JISC-funded project which chose to make its project deliverables avaiilable under a Creative Commons licence. The business reasons for this decison are described and the authors argue that this approach could be adopted by service departments within institutions such as Universities for sound business reasons.
This range of motivations is reflected by a range of different licences, the best example is the Creative Commons family, in which seperate licences cater specifically for different motivations, and simple tools exist to help non-experts choose the licence that is right for them.
References and Further Reading
See also: OpenContentRepositories
Open content and value creation by Magnus Cedergren First Monday, volume 8, number 8 (August 2003)
Collaborative development of open content: A process model to unlock the potential for African universities by Derek Keats First Monday, volume 8, number 2 (February 2003)
A Guide To Open Content Licences Lawrence Liang, Piet Zwart Institute, December 2004