Whose metadata is it, anyway?

Back in May 2010 David Cameron in a letter to Government departments described plans for opening up Government data in order to provide greater accountability; value for money in public spending and realise economic benefits for business.

It might be argued that the New Labour government could well have outlined similar plans when in came into power in May 1997, although back then the technical infrastructure wasn’t in place to allow easy access to such data.  The point being that providing open access to research publications and data predates the arrival of the current government and we should avoid implementing such openness due to disagreements with government policies and funding cuts.

In HE what should we be doing?  I’d like to make the following suggestions in two areas of interest to me:

  • Open access to metrics on use of online services such as institutional repositories
  • Open access to metadata used in institutional repositories, allowing commercial exploitation of such metadata.

I’ve discussed reasons for the first proposal in a blog post.  The second areas was discussed on Twitter last night with Chris Keene providing a link to the OpenDOAR registry of IRs. There seem to be several policy statements of the form:

Metadata re-use policy explicitly undefined; Full data item policies explicity undefined; Content policies explicitly undefined; Submission policies explicitly undefined; Preservation policies explicitly undefined

whilst others say:

Metadata re-use permitted for not-for-profit purposes;

It seems that despite libraries seeming to be promoting the benefits of open access to research papers there is an apparent failure to promote open data.

The Open Knowledge Foundation blog has recently published a post on4 Stars for Metadata: an Open Ranking System for Library, Archive, and Museum Collection Metadata“. The post states that:

As the word “open” implies, the Linked Open Data approach requires that data be published under a license or other legal tool that allows everyone to freely use and reuse the data.

Irrespective of the possible benefits of Linked Data I agree with the need to make metadata more open than it currently is. I feel that a first step should be to audit the existing status of metadata policies in repositories listed in OpenDOAR. What percentage, I wonder, currently allow for commercial reuse?

Once there’s an understanding of the scale for those who wish to promote a change towards greater openness there will be a need to discuss change control strategies. Is it legally possibly to change existing licence conditions? Whose metadata is it, anyway?