Thursday, November 27, 2014

Last COSI 'Open' History & Research Technology Blog

After 5 years, this is the last COSI 'Open' History & Research Technology blog. We will, however, continue to maintain the associated COSI 'Open' History & Research Technology web site. We thank the thousands of visitors that took the time to visit the site and read our blogs over the years.  

For well over 10-15 years, the battles between 'open' vs. 'closed' solutions have raged. It started with free and 'open source' software (FOSS) solutions, then moved on to 'open standards', 'open access', 'open data', 'open architecture', ...  It started in the technology sector, then spread into education, healthcare, manufacturing, government and just about every other component of the public and private sector. It became more than just about technology, it became a broad, global movement that supports the adoption of 'open culture' and 'open societies' around the world. Many individuals, corporations, and countries will continue to battle and fight against the 'open movement' for years to come, not recognizing that the war is over - all 'closed' systems will succumb to 'open solutions' as we move into the future.    -  Peter Groen

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Understanding 'Open' Terminology

Having heard so many people using the terms “open systems”, “open computing”, and “open source” interchangeably, believing they all mean the same thing, it seemed appropriate to  write a short blog defining some of these terms and soliciting input on other ‘open’ terminology.

In general, the term “Open” often refers to initiatives whose inner workings are exposed to the public and are capable of being further modified or improved by any qualified individual or organization. “Open” is the opposite of “proprietary” or “closed” environments. In the case of software, this would mean that the “source code” is either open for all to access such as the Linux operating system or closed systems such as Windows  where only Microsoft programmers are able to change the source code. 

Other ‘open’ terminology often loosely bandied about include:
  • Open Source Software (OSS) - OSS refers to a software program in which the source code is available to anyone for use. It can be modified by anyone from its original design free of up-front license fees. The source code is available for review, modification, and sharing by the at-large community.
  • Open Standards - The set of specifications developed to define interoperability between diverse systems. The standards are owned and maintained by a vendor-neutral organization rather than by a specific commercial developer.
  • Open Systems - Hardware and/or software systems that use or adhere to open architecture and standards that support interoperable to some degree. See
  • Open Architecture - An Information Technology (IT) architecture whose specifications are open and available to the public and that provide a platform that enables continued evolution and interoperability. See
  • Open Access - Providing free and unrestricted access to journal articles, research findings, books, and other literature. See
  • Open Data – Data that anyone is free to use, reuse and redistribute without restriction. For more detail, see
  • Open Data Format - A standard way for describing data formats, per the “Open Data Format Initiative (ODFI)”, and a program to validate that a data file is “ODFI compliant”. See
  • Open Community - An environment in which the creative energy of large numbers of people is loosely coordinated into large, meaningful collaborative projects and generally avoids the traditional closed organization structure many are used to seeing in the private sector.
  • Open Computing - This is a general term used to describe an “open” philosophy in building information technology (IT) systems. It represents the principle that includes architecture and technology procurement policies and practices that align IT with the goals of an open interoperable computer systems environment.
  • Open Knowledge - An open system of knowledge transfer using the Internet and other information technologies to share best practices, emerging practices, knowledge and innovations within one or more “Community of Practice (CoP)” or across organizational boundaries. Visit
  • Open Publication License (OPL) - This is a license used for creating free and open publications created by the Open Content Project. Other alternatives include the Creative Commons licenses, the GNU Free Documentation License and the Free Art License. See
  • Open Source Hardware - Hardware whose design is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the hardware based on that ‘open’ design. See
We are now seeing the emergence of new, related terms like ‘Open Culture’ and ‘Open Society’ as more people and organizations around the world adopt ‘open’ technologies and solutions and embrace the philosophy behind them.

Have you heard some other ‘open’ terminology being used that you can take a shot at defining and share with us?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

'Copyright' or 'Copyleft'

[Reprint]  I've been surprised at how often people automatically try to copyright something they have posted on the Internet. People don't seem to understand what 'copyright' is really all about and how to use it properly. They ought to think 'open access' and consider going with some form of Creative Commons 'copyleft' protection instead.

My impression is that many of these people want to be recognized for having taken the time to research and post something of interest to the public – a picture or a bit of history. It's not that they intend to make any money selling whatever facts they have discovered and shared – they simply want some acknowledgment or credit for their efforts.

Instead of trying to 'copyright' their work, what they might really want to consider doing is using some form of 'copyleft' or Creative Commons license. This allows others to use and share what they have found with others, as long as they receive some acknowledgement or credit for what they posted on the Internet.

Copyright is a form of intellectual property law that protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation. In other words, I don't think posting an historical factoid or brief description of an historical incident qualifies for copyright protection. See

Copyright is a legal concept enacted by most governments, that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to its use and distribution, usually for a limited time, with the intention of enabling the creator of intellectual wealth (e.g. author of a book) to receive compensation for their work and be able to financially support themselves. See Wikipedia

Copyright laws emerged hundreds of years ago after the emergence of the printing press and publication houses. However, the development of digital media and computer network technologies have prompted reinterpretation of these exceptions, introduced new difficulties in enforcing copyright, and inspired additional challenges to copyright law's philosophic basis.

Again, let me emphasize that the justification for copyright laws was to enable creators of intellectual wealth to financially support themselves and give them a motive to continue publishing their creations. Without copyright, artists, authors, journalists, photographers, or anyone else who creates non-material economic wealth would have to find another way to support themselves.

The original length of copyright in the United States was 14 years, and it had to be explicitly applied for. If the author wished, they could apply for a second 14 year monopoly grant, but after that the work entered the 'public domain', so it could be used and built upon by others.

Works in the public domain are those whose intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable. For example, the courts have ruled that reproductions of two-dimensional works such as paintings and photographs that were already in the public domain could not be considered original enough for protection under U.S. law.

If you haven't heard, the Creative Commons organization has been described as being at the forefront of the 'copyleft' movement, which seeks to support the building of a richer public domain by providing an alternative to the automatic "all rights reserved" copyright license.

Copyleft is the practice of using the law to offer the right to freely distribute or share copies of one's work with some restrictions, like ensuring they receive some form of recognition from their peers when they reuse the work. Common practice for using copyleft is to codify the copying terms for a work with a copyleft license of some sort. Such a license typically gives other people many of the same freedoms as the author, including:

  • freedom to reuse the work,
  • freedom to study the work,
  • freedom to copy and share the work with others,
  • freedom to modify the work and redistribute the modified or derivative works.

To conclude, many people who post interesting items of history that they have discovered during their research really ought to avoid the use of copyright, but instead should join the growing 'open access' movement and freely share their findings with others. That way everyone benefits, recognition is received, and knowledge gets shared on a much wider scale. The main reason most amateur authors or researchers make their works openly accessible is to maximize the impact of their research.

By open access, we mean its immediate, free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search or link to the full text of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software or use them for any other lawful purpose…”   -  See The Budapest Open Access Initiative

I felt impelled to write this short blog after doing some work on a local history site. I kept running into interesting bits of information about geneaology, historical facts, or pictures of people from centuries ago that were all copyright protected by whoever posted them on the Internet. They obviously wanted to share the information and hoped to receive some recognition for their efforts. Should they have used the 'copyright' protection? Or should they have used the 'copyleft' protection? What do you think?