Open Policy Network

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= to promote the open access of publicly-funded works.



By Cat Johnson:

"When public dollars fund a project, shouldn’t the public then have access it? It seems like a no-brainer, yet this is oftentimes not the case as data, educational tools, media and more get squirreled away in the caverns of bureaucracy or, worse yet, sold back to a public that has already paid for the resource.

The Open Policy Network (OPN) was created to promote the open access of publicly-funded works. A project of Creative Commons, the OPN is envisioned as a “coalition of organizations and individuals working to support the creation, adoption, and implementation of policies that require that publicly funded resources are openly licensed resources.”

Along with the launch of the Network came announcement of the OPN’s first project, the Institute for Open Leadership (IOL), a week-long summit where accepted fellows build the movement toward openness in government licensing, policies, and practices." (


From an interview of Timothy Vollmer, Creative Commons staffer and co-organizer of the OPN, conducted by Cat Johnson:

* Shareable: What was the inspiration for the Open Policy Network? Timothy Vollmer: The idea for the Network came out of a brainstorming discussion at our Creative Commons Global Summit in Warsaw in 2011. There, we asked our affiliates—CC works with volunteers in over 70 countries—what sorts of things they need to help carry the CC message further. One thing they mentioned is the need to provide information, resources, and policy advice to government policymakers who want to include Creative Commons licensing in legislation, regulation, and policies.

This has become a much larger interest area for CC over the past several years. Creative Commons was initially used heavily by the creative and cultural sector--such as artists, musicians, photographers, and filmmakers. This is still true today, but we’ve also seen increased interest from the public sector, including national, state, provincial, and local governments, as well as cultural heritage institutions, intergovernmental organizations, and other entities. These public sector bodies fund the creation and distribution of a wide variety of digital content: educational and training resources, scientific research, health and crime data, and so on.

These groups have asked for help from us in implementing CC licenses, so we think that providing information, advice, and policy expertise is a natural and potentially very high-impact work area.

It seems logical that publicly-funded resources would be made available to the public, but I know this is not always the case. What stands in the way of these resource being made available and how does the OPN plan to address this?

To most it does feel logical—ethical even—that the public should have access to the materials funded by its tax dollars. That’s why our mantra with regard to the Open Policy Network is “publicly funded resources should be openly licensed resources.”

Right now this is not the case. In fact, oftentimes the public has to pay for materials several times over before they are granted access to it. Take the example of scholarly publishing. Many university researchers receive grants from the federal government to conduct their work. The public pays for this. The researcher does their work and then publishes in a commercial journal. That journal then sells access back to universities through subscription fees to those publications. I think most people would see that this is not an efficient—or just—use of the public’s investments.

I think what’s standing in the way of systemic policy change right now is “business as usual”—incumbent interests want things to stay the same. They want their business models to endure forever, even with massive disruptions of digital information and the web, which have essentially pushed publishing and distribution costs to zero.

* What’s the ideal way to make public resources available?

We think that the best way to ensure that the public is granted the rights they’re due is to require that digital resources created with public funds be licensed under open, public copyright licenses, like Creative Commons licenses. CC licenses communicate in advance the rights we all should have to publicly funded resources.

Within the Open Policy Network, we’ve developed a set of principles by which we’ll work. We think that the adoption of open policies can maximize the return on public investments and promote a global commons of resources for innovative reuse. We believe that open policies should require, as a default, licenses compliant with the Open Definition, with a preference for open licenses that at most require attribution to the author (such as CC BY) for publicly funded content and no rights reserved (such as CC0) for publicly funded data.

There are already implementations of the policy that publicly funded materials should be openly licensed materials. One specific example is a grant program at the U.S. Department of Labor. It’s a big program, which will fund up to $2 billion of education and training materials. The difference between this grant program and those that have come before it is that grantees must agree to license and publish the digital content they create under a Creative Commons Attribution license. This way, the public, and anyone around the world, are free to re-use the materials for any purpose, as long as they give credit to the author of the materials.

The CC BY policy will help to maximize the impact of the government funded materials by clearly communicating rights. It expressly permits customization and localization of content. And it proactively enables innovative and entrepreneurial uses of grant-funded materials by anyone.

Regarding the Department of Labor grant program I mentioned earlier, we’ve already heard that grantees in the later rounds of funding are reusing and repurposing openly licensed content that was developed in the initial rounds. This is one benefit to open licensing and open distribution models—more people simply know about what content is already available out there. And the open license let’s them know how they can use it.

There are also interesting things being done across disciplines. PubMed Central is a repository of open access articles, many of which are published under the CC BY license. The articles are comprised of text, images, figures, and datasets, all licensed under the CC license. A few years ago, some Wikipedians thought that some of this great open access content could be great to have on Wikipedia. They developed the Open Access Media Importer, which “crawls scholarly publication databases for supplementary audio and video materials and uploads them to Wikimedia Commons if they are available under licenses compatible with re-use.” To date there are 16,541 files that have been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons. So, we see that openly licenses journal articles are being repurposed to feed open educational resources repositories.


* What's OPN’s role in this worldwide shift to a more open society?

The Open Policy Network will be just one player in the move toward a more open society. We think that the power of digital information, when combined with open licensing and embedded in public policies, can play a powerful role in increasing the efficiency of government and public sector investments in education, research, and data. This is not a small task. Open policy advocates must work productively and collaboratively alongside related activities, such as copyright reform, in support of the public interest and the movement to increase the transparency of government information." (

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