Open Data - Background Information

Background Information on Free UK Genealogy's approach to Open Data

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Why are we doing this?

Volunteer transcribers want their efforts to be used by the widest possible audience. Free UK Genealogy will always make its records available for free, however there will always be people who are able to add more value to the transcriptions than Free UK Genealogy ever could.

At the moment we are limited as to who we could share our data with, however amazing their project is. This is because if someone down the line from them were to charge for their project that would be against our own present implicit agreements with our transcribers.

Open data means that *anyone* who wants to work with the data will be able to. This means a bigger pool of people making the records available in ways that we would not have the resources to do.

After a lot of deliberating and agonising we have concluded that Open Data is the way Free UK Genealogy has to move.

In the past, Government transcription projects were often awarded on the basis that the transcribing company had an exclusive deal in terms of making the data available to their subscribers. Free UK Genealogy believe that offering an alternative where we can collaborate with the Government to get the data transcribed by volunteers and making the resulting data available to everyone is an aim worth pursuing. This kind of collaboration is ONLY possible if we have an Open Data basis.

The data will remain available for free on Free UK Genealogy so no single provider will have exclusivity and the records will be widely available. As well as the data being freely available on Free UK Genealogy, other providers may well choose to make the data available for free as well.

Why we are not using a 'non commercial use' licence

It is understandable that whilst volunteers are happy that their work becomes freely available, some do not want people to make money out of what they have done for free. 

"If somebody else has a good idea about using that data to make it even more useful to genealogists, then they can’t do it, and unless we negotiate an agreement with them (or we develop the idea ourselves) that good idea will never happen.Now that isn’t what we are about!

"So, we want to say to all those people out there who think they can do something clever with that data 'Go, do something clever'. Some of them will do something clever and make some money from it. Others will do clever things for free, and still others will see people making money from the data and decide to do something similar for free.Basically, unless what somebody wants to do with the data is HUGELY clever, somebody else will do the same thing for free, so there will be little incentive for the pay sites to do simple stuff here, because if they do, somebody else will pull the rug from under them."

"Why should we claim that our efforts, valiant as they are, should then deny the public full and free access to the dataset when everybody’s ancestors paid for it in the first place?   ... this data like any other publicly created dataset should be open and free to ensure all the benefits can be made of it"

Therefore, we will not be selling our datasets, and the licences we adopt permit any use.

What is a database?

“Data or other materials which are arranged in a systematic or methodical way and are individually accessible by electronic or other means. This broad definition could cover anything from mailing lists, repositories, directories and catalogues to telephone directories and encyclopaedias. A database will be protected by database rights but its individual components (which may be factual data) may not.” (from this handy summary of the legal definition of a database). Some of the items we transcribe – even if handwritten books – can therefore be databases. The database right lasts for only 15 years, although this period renews each time the database is substantially modified.

Others’ database rights

Database rights may exist where an individual or group not part of a Free UK Genealogy project have transcribed a set of records, and allowed us to incorporate their data within our databases.

We are identifying such individuals and groups, and will be contacting them to ask that they provide us with an Open Data licence, so fullest use of their data can be made.
We do not believe that our form of ODbL 1.0 will in any way restrict their use of the data, but if it does, we will issue them with a licence so that their rights are not restricted.
If they do not wish to provide a licence, we will not share their data until their possible database rights have expired. We very much wish to continue to work with Family History Societies, local history societies, parishioners and others who wish to create a database and share it with us, but in future will only accept databases with the Open Data licence.

Modification of databases under the Open Database Licence 1.0

As the data becomes available as Open Data, people will be able to make use of it in their work and will be able to publish their modified versions of the data. The original data will always be held by FreeUKGen websites and as no data will be taken back in our databases via this route, our data will remain unmodified. Using a Linked Data solution, all the identifiers which will be created will include authentication data which will point directly back to us, thus ensuring the original source of the data is always known. Users of the data will then be able to choose whether to use modified versions or the original.

​Copyright and Other Rights

Copyright exists, or existed, in some of the sources we transcribe (the subject is very complex – Tim Padfield provides an in-depth and comprehensive overview in his book Copyright for Archivists if you want to read more - your local Records Office probably has a copy). 

The owners or custodians of the originals or images sometimes place conditions on allowing us to transcribe. These restrictions are nothing to do with copyright, but about use (because they could just say ‘no’). 

The creators of photographs and scans may have copyright, although the law in this area is somewhat uncertain. The most recent advice is that copyright does not exist (see the section “Are digitised copies of older images protected by copyright?” in this Copyright Notice). Because of this, we will ask transcribers and others taking photographs to sign a further Agreement, assigning any copyright in the image. If you use an image from / on a Free UK Gen server, or one sent to you by a project co-ordinator, we will have obtained any necessary permissions for you to transcribe it, as someone who has signed the Volunteer’s Agreement. 

Volunteers who breach agreements they have entered into as individuals (e.g. subscriptions to websites which have prohibited transcribing from the images viewed except for personal use) are already breaching their personal contract, and we cannot condone or support this. We are happy to answer specific questions from those who are unsure whether they are breaching agreements or not.

Transcribers – like anyone – can use  their transcriptions under the Open Data licence.