Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Powerhouse collection documentation goes Creative Commons

April 2nd, 2009 by Seb Chan

We’re happy to announce that as of today all our online collection documentation is available under a mix of Creative Commons licenses. We’ve been considering this for a long time but the most recent driver was the Wikipedia Backstage tour.

Collection records are now split into two main blocks of text.

The first section is the relatively museum-specific provenance which is now licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial license.

The second section is primarily factual object data and is licensed under a less restrictive Creative Commons Attribution, Share-Alike license.

Just to be very clear, images, except where we have released them to the Commons on Flickr, remain under license. There’s a lot more work to be done there.

So what does this really mean?

Teachers and educators can now do what they want or need to with our collection records and encourage their students to do the same without fear. Some probably did in any case but we know that a fair number asked permissions, others wrongly assumed the worst (that we’d make them fill out forms or pay up), and it is highly likely that schools were charged blanket license fees by collecting agencies at times.

Secondly it means that anyone, commercial or non-commercial can now copy, scrape or harvest our descriptive, temporal and geospatial data, and object dimensions for a wide range of new uses. This could be building a timeline, a map, or a visualisation of our collection mixed with other data. It could be an online publication, a printed text book, or it could be just to improve Wikipedia articles. It can also now be added to Freebase and other online datastores, and incorporated into data services for mobile devices and so much more.

Obviously, we’ll be working to improve programmatic access to this data along the lines of the Brooklyn Museum API, as well as through OAI and other means, but right now we’re permitting you to use your own nouse to get the data, legitimately and with our blessing – as long as you attribute us as the source, and share alike. We figure that a clear license is probably the ground level work that needs to preceded a future API in any case.

Thirdly, we’ve applied an attribution, non-commercial license to object provenance largely to allow broad educational and non-commercial repurposing but not to sanction commercial exploitation of what is usually quite specific material to our Museum (why we collected it etc).

You might be wondering why we didn’t go with a CC-Plus license?

A CC-Plus license was considered but given the specific nature of the content (text) we felt that this added a layer of unnecessary complexity. We may still, in the future, apply a CC- Plus license to images where it will make more sense given we have a commercial unit actively selling photographic reproductions and handling rights and permissions.

Tags: 8 Comments

  • Good news, great leadership (again) by you guys.
    Shame about the images – keep chipping away.
    Surprised to see the ‘SA’ restriction added to the second section – especially in the light of:

    Contra NC – Mostly –

    Which was the post I finished reading immediately prior to this one ;-)


  • Seb Chan

    @mike: the images are very complex but will eventually be sorted.

    SA – yes we thought hard about this and figured that we’d start with SA and see. It is entirely possible that in some jurisdictions the material covered by that license would be arguably entirely ‘factual’ and thus not protected. But that’s a question for everyone’s lawyers – wherever they dwell.

  • Erika

    From someone who writes a lot of that content I think this is FANTASTIC. Well done!

  • Seb, we’ll soon make available tools which may help you with the OAI-PMH bit, in case you don’t have tools in house already. I’ve been saying for weeks now that these tools will be released tomorrow, so I won’t use that line again. Next week looks like a very, very solid candidate, though. Some teaser info is at If you’re interested, I can e-mail you more info.

  • Hi Seb,

    That’s some excellent news, and I can imagine how much work it took to get that done.

    One small request, in the absence of an API. Would it be possible to put some distinctive css classnames on the DIV’s containing the licensed data?

    I noticed that you have named targets “_cc-by-sa_content” and “_cc-by-nc_content”, but classnames on the divs would make XPath based scraping (aka “use your own nouse”) a lot easier.


  • Hey Seb, nice work. I’m interested in how you see the attribution working. Let’s say a mashup includes a particular data record… are you expecting attribution connected to each individual record, or just on the application overall? It’s something I’ve been grappling with and haven’t settled on yet. I can imagine mashups with multiple sources where record level attribution will be problematic on some devices. As an aside I imagine we’ll look at bringing some of your NZ content into DigitalNZ. Might need to chat about this though. Nice one!

  • Seb Chan

    @Andy: I think it depends a lot on the mashup. We’re in pretty new territory here and the feeling has been that we need to get out there and see how it goes. If a mashup contained full descriptions then we’d probably expect per-item attribution, but if it was just geospatial data integrated with other data from other sources then we’d likely be happy being acknowledged as a ‘data provider’.

    Attribution is incredibly important to the cultural sector – but that said, we’re flexible.

    I’ve had a lot of feedback so far about our licensing still being too limiting (if you work in the museum world you are probably right now choking on your lunch) From my perspective this is the first step on a long journey.

    As uses are requested that require more flexible licensing it is highly likely we will evaluate the CC licenses as needed.

    Likewise the Share-Alike is not set in stone for eternity. I expect we will have a very different licensing regime in 5 years time – but if we waited until then we’d never get a headstart on the possibilities.

    Open access vs All rights reserved is often portrayed in black and white. We’re trying to move the disucssion to the middle ground – the shades of grey that are everyday life.

  • Hi Seb
    I think it is fitting that the first Australian museum to open their online collection in this way is the Powerhouse. From AMOL through to CC, Powerhouse has shown itself as a leader in the development of accessible online content.

    I’m interested in your thoughts regarding the development and tracking of the networks which may be created through this venture. Do you envisage that as audiences access and repurpose this content, they themselves may form new networks – in similar ways to the Flickr communities?