Open Content

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"the idea that the principles of the open source / free software movements can be productively applied to content" - David Wiley [1]



1. From the Wikipedia:

"Open content, a neologism coined by analogy with "open source", describes any kind of creative work published in a format that explicitly allows copying and modifying of its information by anyone, not exclusively by a closed organization, firm or individual." (

2. Technical definition by the Open Knowledge Foundation.

See the Open Definition

3. Monica Mora [2]:

"Open content is an asset with a structure that is different from that of Open Source Software and Open Source Hardware.

Open content refers to any kind of creative work, such as articles, pictures, audio, and video, or engineering work such as designs, published in a format that is royalty free, share alike and may or may not allow commercial redistribution. Open content explicitly allows the copying and the modifying of the information by anyone. Content can be either in the Public Domain or under an open license like one of the Creative Commons licenses. The largest open content project is Wikipedia. The phrase open content was coined to be similar to open source." (

Open Educational Resources are an example of open content.


Rufus Pollock [3]:

"One of the first printed texts of which we have record is a copy of the Buddhist Diamond sutra produced in China around 868AD. In it can be found the dedication: “for universal free distribution”. Clearly, the idea of open knowledge, that is knowledge you are free to use, reuse and redistribute, has been present since humanity first began to formally transmit and share ideas. It is also likely that the urge to keep ideas secret, particularly those that had ‘commercial’ value, is equally old." (


  1. OPUS(Parallel text corpus collection)
  2. VoxForge (Transcribed speech data) (dutch)
  3. (general archive)
  4. Wikipedia and its family of projects: (Wiktionary, WikiCommons, WikiSource, WikiBooks, WikiQuote)
  5. Project Gutenberg: (EU) (LibriVox Audiobooks) (MOA American literature) (Project Runeberg Scandinavian literature)
  6. WordNet (Lexical data)
  7. OpenStreetMap (Geospatial data)
  8. OSGeo: geospatial software
  9. FreeSound (Audio samples)
  10. Mutopia (Sheet music)
  11. Music Brainz (Music metadata)
  12. OpenSubtitles (Film subtitles)
  13. PlanetMath (Mathmatics)
  14. WikiTravel (Travel guides)
  15. WikiCompany (Company profiles)
  16. DBPedia (RDF data aggregation) (See also: LinkingOpenData, Umbel - a subject reference structure, and Bibliographic Ontology)
  17. Science Commons (Open Access science portals)
  18. Free-Reading (English literacy lessons)


"Free, unencumbered access to a piece of knowledge whether it be a film or a database, is the most obvious way that openness delivers benefits. Because it is cheaper and easier to get hold of open knowledge it may be much more widely used than it would otherwise. Each such extra user, who gains access because open knowledge is cheaper or easier to get hold of than ‘closed’ knowledge, derives a benefit that increase the well-being of society." (


Defining Open Content

David Wiley:

What is the History of the Term “Open Content?”

"The words “open” and “content” were first used together in the spring of 1998. “Open content” was and is an attempt to appropriately adapt the logic of “open source” software to the non-software world of cultural and scientific artifacts like music, literature, and images.

The term “open source software” and the corresponding movement were established earlier in 1998 in reaction to perceived problems with the term “free software” and its associated movement. While advocates of free software focus their message on the philosophical principle of freedom, advocates of open source software focus their message on the pragmatic benefits of being open. Consequently, arguments in favor of free software run primarily along the lines of “because you should,” while arguments in favor of open source software run primarily along the lines of “here’s how you’ll benefit if you do.”

I waited to make the decision between the terms “open content” and “free content” until discussing the choices with the leaders of both camps (Eric Raymond and Richard Stallman). I then made the decision very deliberately. I wanted the open content movement to be about demonstrating usefulness and value that people would hopefully find persuasive.

So there you have the history of the term – “open content.”

What Does the “Open” in Open Content Mean?

“Open” is a continuous, not binary, construct. A door can be wide open, completely shut, or open part way. So can a window. So can a faucet. So can your eyes. Our commonsense, every day experience teaches us that “open” is continuous. Anyone who will argue that “open” is a binary construct is forced to admit that a door cracked open one centimeter is just as open as a door standing wide open, because their conception of the term is overly simplified and has no nuance.

Alternately, a would-be definer might adopt an artificial definition, in which a door opened 20 cm or more is considered open while a door opened 19 cm is not considered open. But this type of arbitrary definition is unsatisfactory as well. For example, the “open” in “open source” has no nuance as it has been artificially binary-ized. The open source definition tells us very clearly what a license must and must not do in order to be permitted to describe itself with the trademarked term “open source.” In the eyes of the defenders of the “open source” brand, if you’re not open enough you’re not open at all.

Much as we might measure the openness of a door in centimeters, we measure the openness of content in terms of the rights a user of the content is granted.

The 4Rs Framework describes the four most important rights:

1. Reuse – the right to reuse the content in its unaltered / verbatim form

2. Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself

3. Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other content to create something new

4. Redistribute – the right to make and share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others

To the degree that a license provides users with no-cost (free) permission to exercise these rights with regard to content, that content is open. So, whether these rights are granted unconditionally, or permitted only if the user meets certain conditions (e.g., requiring attribution, requiring distribution of derivatives under a specified license, or prohibiting commercial redistribution), it is still appropriate to call this content open. But the more conditions placed on the user, the less open the content. The fewer restrictions a license places on a user’s ability to exercise 4R rights in the content, the more open the content is." (

Benefits of Openness to producers

Rufus Pollock [4]:

"The main point to make is that in industries which are cumulative, that is new ideas and inventions build upon old, proprietary rights mean having to ask ‘permission’ (and pay for it) — while openness does not. With openness it is easier for subsequent innovators and creators to produce new work while with proprietary rights one have increased transactions costs as well as a whole bunch of bargaining issues — most prominently the risk of ‘hold-up’. Particularly in cases where the initial creator today may be the reuser tomorrow the benefits of openness in freer and more rapid reuse and cumulative innovation may outweigh the losses from lower immediate revenues." (

The Internet, Web and Google as examples of the benefits of openness

Rufus Pollock [5]

"The Internet, and the World-Wide-Web that is built on top of it are two of the most obvious and important examples of the benefits of being open. All of the basic protocols and standards that went into these technologies were open, free for anyone to implement, use, modify and examine. As a result innovation of the Internet and the Web has been phenomenally rapid creating immense wealth and value for society. The centrality of openness here, and the importance of the absence of the need to seek permission is illustrated by the example of Google.

Google, the provider of the planet’s most popular online search engine, is perhaps the best known Internet company in the world. With a market valuation in the tens of billions of dollars it is also one of the most successful. It is therefore the largest and most commercially successful open content company in the world even though it does not, at least at present, own any content at all. For Google derives the vast bulk of its present revenue from advertising. The ‘attention’ that sells the advertising is itself generated from Google’s role as a web search engine, the gatekeeper and organizer of the immense store of information that is the Web. Without the Web, Google, and the business model that supports it simply would not exist.

Thus Google has only been possible because the information on the web is almost all semi-open and anyone may freely access (and copy for their own purposes) the information posted on websites. Imagine if right from the start the web had been ‘closed’, and each website had required payment as well as an agreement not to copy its contents. Search engines, at least in their present form, would not exist and we would have seen neither the benefits of the services they provide nor the revenues they generate." (

Open Content in Specialized Areas


Stephen Downes:

"Open Content – here we refer to any material that may be of use in the purpose of education, not merely the professional materials that might be produced by educators and publishers, such as looks, learning packages, learning content, learning objects, but also the artifacts created by people generally as evidence of their own learning, blog posts, videos, music, animations, software and the like; and distributed, not in the sense that they are collected and packaged and flaked and formed and sold or distributed through advertiser-based media, but rather, exchanged peer to peer, through a network of connections, as a conversation rather than a commodity. We have all of us offered reams of learning materials online, freely available to all who wish to read them, watch them, listen to them, or to use the to create and share and create anew." (IDC mailing list, June 19, 2010)

More Information

  1. FOSS: Open Content, written by Lawrence Liang
  2. Free Content
  3. Common Content

Related Concepts

  1. Fair Use
  2. Open Access
  3. Open Access Books
  4. Open Biology
  5. Open Business
  6. Open Business Process Initiative
  7. Open City Guides
  8. Open Content Licenses
  9. Open Courseware Initiative
  10. Open Data
  11. Open Design
  12. Open Documentaries
  13. Open Education
  14. Open Educational Resources
  15. Open Fiction
  16. Open Government Data
  17. Open Textbooks
  18. Open Genomics
  19. Open GeoData
  20. Open Knowledge
  21. Open Learning
  22. Open Licenses
  23. Open Music Model
  24. Open Music Business Model
  25. Open Peer Review
  26. Open Peer to Peer Design
  27. Open Public Data
  28. Open Science Licenses
  29. Open Spreadsheets
  30. Open Textbooks