Friday lunchtime lectures at the Open Date Institute – Event review

by cpocock

On Friday, 17th January, as every Friday, the Open Data Institute held a lunchtime lecture. The ODI is a not-for-profit organisation which seeks to promote innovation and the open data philosophy.

This particular lecture was titled ‘Licensed and Open: using Law with Attitude’ and was designed to introduce the legal aspects of the open business model to an audience of entrepreneurs.

Chaired by Kathryn Corrick, this 45 minute session saw the speakers Amanda Brock and Dr Ian Walden run the audience through a crash course in how to monetize intellectual property with open licences.

Dr Ian Walden first set the context for this discussion grounding it in government policy and end-user demands. Necessarily, it was important to eliminate any misconceptions of the key terms so next came the double negative definition of ‘Open’ whereby “[it] doesn’t mean that it isn’t a source of revenue”. The correct understanding of the term then isn’t as ‘free’ but as ‘accessible’.
But it was in the delimiting of public and private law that the ‘fun’ started. As under the afore-mentioned definition, this open content is not free – and certainly not free of rights. However, in order to make it accessible, Walden stressed, it is important to comply with any restrictions imposed by public law. The ideal tool which allows this is a licence agreement, bringing the matter under private law. And that is where the ‘attitude’ comes in: the Open business model relies on private law licences so as to shape the agreement around the public law.

Having cleared that up, the conversation moved on to more practical concerns for businesses that are seeking to achieve such openness. Drawing from her portfolio of experience, Brock set out the main issues that arise and questions that need an answer to better tailor the agreement to those answers. Which business model and structure is more suitable for the project? What content can be subject to the licence? Should services surrounding the content be included in the licence? How extensively can the rights be licensed out and to what extent should they be?
Brock illustrated how the differences in answering these questions give rise to a different need in terms of licensing agreements.

After a brief Q&A, this luncheon ended on a resounding call for entrepreneurs to consult the guidance available online and ensure they are indeed using the appropriate terminology, carefully drafting their licences and adequately defining the scope of the licence to fit their purpose.

This ‘speed date’ provided a great introduction to the complexities of drafting IP contracts and licences with an appropriate amount of industry-specific terminology, thus allowing ‘start-ups’ to better understand the more intricate aspects relating to their different agreements.

For those wishing to learn more about open data, information concerning these weekly lectures can be found on the ODI website.

Catherine Pocock is Assistant Editor QMJIP and LLM Candidate at the Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary University of London