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Re: licence for Ontologies

From: Henry Story <henry.story@bblfish.net>
Date: Wed, 27 Oct 2004 11:54:53 +0200
Message-Id: <40013092-27FE-11D9-8917-000A95D9FA7A@bblfish.net>
Cc: Atom Syntax <atom-syntax@imc.org>, bloged <users@bloged.dev.java.net>
To: www-rdf-interest@w3.org, rdfweb-dev@vapours.rdfweb.org

Note: I have CCed a couple of other lists, especially the 
www-rdf-interest list as I think this problem is more general than any 
particular ontology, be it FOAF or Atom-OWL.
The original question was asked here:

There I suggested that ontologies should perhaps have a license that is 
more restrictive than the BSD license, in that they should allow free 
copying, but only very limited changes, nevertheless allow isomorphic 
ontologies to be developed (just change all the URI's) these being 
completely free to use any of the language in the original.

Thanks for your two responses, Ron and Peter.

The  most established license for our Atom-OWL code/ontology would be 
the BSD license with attributions to the creator, since it is over 30 
years old. The BSD licence seems equivalent in spirit to the creative 
commons attribution and share-alike license, the FOAF group is using. 
One could even dual license it, I suppose. And initially at least, I am 
happy with both.

I raised the question because I was not completely clear whether an 
ontology is code, text, or an interface specification/protocol, as 
suggested by Peter Saint-André.

It also seems established practice with Ontologies to change all the 
URLs in the document for any substantial version change. Since the FOAF 
group itself does this when it moves to a new version, should not 
everyone else who wants to alter and improve on the ontology follow 
suite? [1] If there were a simple way to specify how to transform one 
ontology to a successor version this would not cause any problems. 
(perhaps this is being worked on)

The two examples mentions by Ron Alford,

>> Alternate copy of Annotea's http ontology to correct RDF/XML syntax 
>> errors.
>> Alternate copies of foaf so that they made at least marginal sense 
>> when looking at them with an OWL parser.

don't so much seem to be changes to the ontology as corrections to it. 
If one could allow corrections, translations into other RDF 
serializations, translations of the comments, that would be what 
ontology creators really would be looking for.

But what does not seem quite right is taking an ontology, and 
redefining the terms to mean something completely different, or making 
slight changes to the relations between the terms, yet still leaving 
one the impression that one is speaking about the same thing, 
especially as it seems so easy to make the difference obvious by 
changing the URIs that compose the ontology.

I suppose the question is how does this differ from a library written 
in C, lisp, or other such languages? My suggestion here would be that 
none of these language define their variables or functions as URIs ie 
*Universal* resource identifiers. The code sometimes calls functions in 
files that make reference to standards they implement (which in some 
sense makes the standards similar to URIs). When they don't make 
reference to such standards there is no universal statements made, and 
so changing or adapting a function to do something else in no way 
breaks any expectations. Changing an ontology in the way that concerns 
me and publishing it does on the other hand create a confusion.

I will be happy to go with the BSD licence for the moment. But perhaps 
there is longer term a question here that needs looking at.

Henry Story

[1] I do this myself with the two Atom-OWL versions I proposed:
     - <http://bblfish.net/work/atom-owl/2004-06-22/atom.owl>
	- <http://bblfish.net/work/atom-owl/2004-08-12/Atom.owl>

On 26 Oct 2004, at 23:05, Ron Alford wrote on 

> Henry Story wrote:
>>     you can copy this ontology as much as you wish, but cannot change 
>> the ontology it represents without agreement from the ontology 
>> copyright holder. You can on the other hand create an isomorphic 
>> ontology to this one, (change all the uris to different ones you 
>> own), and you can make any changes you wish to that one.
> As someone who continually finds himself having to make alternate 
> versions of ontologies, I would find that ontology exceptionally hard 
> to stomach.
>> Here are some recent examples:
>> Alternate copy of Annotea's http ontology to correct RDF/XML syntax 
>> errors.
>> Alternate copies of foaf so that they made at least marginal sense 
>> when looking at them with an OWL parser.
> What are you afraid of with people making changes to the ontology?  
> That people might adopt an alternate view of your terms?
> The semantic web seems /expressly/ designed to allow this.

Perhaps this is indeed something I have not yet quite understood.

> -Ron

On 27 Oct 2004, Peter Saint-André wrote, on 
> Why are you looking for copyrights? Most protocols are free as the air
> and anyone can implement them without restriction (protocols are not
> code or writing -- I'm not sure how one would categorize an ontology,
> but it seems more similar to a protocol than to code or writing). Also,
> given the trends in U.S. copyright policy, recognize that anything you
> copyright now will not go into the public domain until sometime in the
> next century, if ever.
> Peter
Received on Wednesday, 27 October 2004 09:55:01 UTC

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