Tag Archives: journalism

All your video are belong to us: open licence recordings of local government meetings

I’ve written before about what open licensing is and how to apply it to your pictures; and I’ve called for councils and other public bodies to open licence as many as possible of their photographs.

There’s recently been a welcome and encouraging increase in the number of councils that are live-streaming, or videoing for later consumption, their meetings. Such videos — and similar audio recordings — should also be made available to the public for reuse under open licences, which means no unnecessary restrictions such as “no commercial use” or “no derivatives” (the latter prohibits people from providing edited highlights or making compilations).

Some councils have an old fashioned attitude to the reuse of their videos
Photo by Taki Steve, on Flickr, CC-BY

There are a few reasons why this doesn’t currently happen, and they’re based on reasonable but unfounded concerns. Some council people (employed officers and elected members) are worried that they’ll lose control. They think that people will edit the videos in such as way as to misrepresent what was actually said. And some people will — but such people will do that regardless of the licence in place, and will misrepresent councillors even if only text minutes are available. Councils’ responses should be to point members of the public to the unedited originals, which they will of course host themselves, or on a service such as YouTube, using an account which they control. Are councils really going to resort to copyright law to stifle satire or prevent lobbying? Perhaps they should read about the (where resorting to legislation focusses greater attention on one’s actions than the subject of that action ever could).

Another issue is that some fear that if councillors use videos for political campaigning, that would break the rules on misuse of public money and council resources. The answer is simple: remind councillors of such rules and let them be responsible for their actions.

Such concerns are vastly outweighed by the potential benefits of allowing free (both senses: as in beer and speech) reuse of videos of our democratic processes in action. Bloggers (hyperlocal and others), journalists, lobby groups, Wikipedians and documentary makers will be able to report on the issues discussed by our elected representatives; and this can only encourage more involvement from lay people in the running of the services that they pay for.

Restrictive, non-open licences do not harm mendacious armchair activists, nor satirists, nor rogue politicians; they only hinder people who wish to use the material in a law abiding way to increase such engagement.

What licence is your council using for its videos of meetings?

My thanks to Tom Phillips for suggesting I write this post, for discussion in this evening’s #lgovsm chat on Twitter.

Politician pin ups – open-licensed pictures, please

Politicians, like visits to the dentist and taxes, are a necessary evil. We all moan about them, but someone has to take care of the machinery of state.

So it’s important that we hold them to account, and elsewhere document their activities in a neutral way. Hyperlocal bloggers do the former, and the latter takes place on Wikipedia, and on sites like the excellent OpenlyLocal (both of whose content is open-licensed).

To illustrate such articles, bloggers and Wikipedians need photographs of the politicians (and senior officers). While it’s possible for individuals to take such pictures (and even open-license them, as I described previously), it would be better if such pictures were available from official channels. Such organisations already take or commission professional quality shots and make them available to the press. If they don’t already, they should make sure that their contract with photographers pays for full rights, enabling open-licensing.

I recently asked Birmingham City Council’s press office to make their pictures of members of BCC’s cabinet available under an open licence, and, to their credit, they did so. I was then able to use one of them on :

Wikipedia article using a picture open-licensed by Birmingham City Council

Some might ask “but what if the pictures are misused, to misrepresent those people”. Well, if someone’s going to do that, then they won’t bother about copyright anyway, and other laws (libel, human rights) already enable redress.

So come on all you councils, civil service departments, police forces/ authorities and so on — let us have pictures of your elected members and senior officers, free (i.e. with no “non-commercial” or “no derivatives” restrictions) for reuse on our blogs, Wikipedia and other sites. Major companies, too, could do this for their most-public board members.

Then there’s all public bodies’ other photographs. After all, West Midlands Police kindly agreed to my request to open-license the fantastic aerial shots from their helicopter…

St. Martin in the Bullring Church, Birmingham
Birmingham’s Bull Ring, from the West Midlands Police helicopter. Although this picture is ©WM Police, I can use it, here and on Wikipedia, because they kindly make it available under a CC-BY-SA licence

Open-licensing your images. What it means and how to do it.

I do a lot of editing on Wikipedia. Sometimes I approach someone connected with a subject I’m writing about (or the subject themself), and ask them to provide an “open licensed” image. In other words, an image whose copyright they own, but given a licence which allows anyone to reuse it, even for commercial purposes.

Noted art historian and television presenter Philip Mould kindly agreed to my request, and released this portrait of himself under a CC-BY-SA licence so I could use it on Wikipedia

With a few exceptions, only images made available under such licences can be used on Wikipedia.

Creative Commons

The commonest form of open licence is Creative Commons — a set of legalistic prose documents which cover various ways of licensing images.

Some Creative Commons include “non-commercial” clauses; these are incompatible with Wikipedia, because people are allowed to reuse content from Wikipedia in commercial situation, such as in newspapers or in apps which are sold for use on mobile devices (provided they comply with other licence terms).

The Creative Commons licences compatible with Wikipedia are:

  • Attribution Creative Commons (CC-BY)
  • Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons (CC-BY-SA)

In which:

  • “Attribution” means that the copyright holder must be given a credit
  • “ShareAlike” means that if someone uses your picture, anything made with it must have the same licence
  • “NoDerivs” means that people cannot crop, recolour or otherwise change your picture when reusing it.

I took this image of John Madin, architect of Birmingham’s Rotunda and Central Library, and made it available under a CC-By-SA licence. You can use it, free, provided you credit me as the photographer

It’s important that anyone open licencing an image understands what that means. For example, Wikimedia (the organisation behind Wikipedia) suggests that people donating images are asked to agree to the following:

  • I acknowledge that I grant anyone the right to use the work in a commercial product, and to modify it according to their needs, as long as they abide by the terms of the license and any other applicable laws.
  • I am aware that I always retain copyright of my work, and retain the right to be attributed in accordance with the license chosen. Modifications others make to the work will not be claimed to have been made by me.
  • I am aware that the free license only concerns copyright, and I reserve the option to take action against anyone who uses this work in a libelous way, or in violation of personality rights, trademark restrictions, etc.
  • I acknowledge that I cannot withdraw this agreement…

(and yes, that wording has a CC-BY-SA licence!)

Which is the best licence to use?

That depends on the circumstances, but CC-BY-SA fits most cases, giving the re-user the greatest flexibility, while protecting the copyright holder’s right to be recognised.

So, how do I open-licence an image?

There are a variety of ways to open-licence an image. Here are some of the commonest:

  • Upload your images to Wikimedia Commons, the media repository for Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects
  • Upload your images to Flickr, specifying one of the above open licences
  • Upload your images to your own website, with a clear and unambiguous statement that they are under a specified open licence

My images are on Flickr, how do I change the licence?

To open-licence a single image in Flickr:

Selecting an open licence in Flickr's pop-up dialogue

  • View the specific image
  • Under “Owner settings”, alongside current licence setting (perhaps “All Rights Reserved”), click “edit”
  • In the pop-up window, check one of the compatible licences
  • Save

[Postscript: My friend John Cummings wrote an equivalent guide for YouTube]

Won’t I lose money doing this?

the ingliston gorilla

kindly made this picture of Nicholas Monro’s statue of King Kong available under a CC-BY-SA licence, at my request, so I could use it on Wikipedia

Not necessarily. Some commercial photographers release low- or medium- resolution copies of their images, and sell high-resolution copies, but most people take images for personal purposes, which have no commercial value, and for which they will never be paid. Open-licensing them enables the community to benefit, at no cost to the photographer. Think of open-licensing your images as a way of giving back to the community which has given you so many open-source tools, without which the web would not work.

If this post has inspired you to openly-licence your images please let me know, in the comments.

And yes you can use other people’s open-licenced images, including many of mine, free. Help yourself!

Caveat

Yes, I know there are other open licences, and more complex use-cases. This is intended as a beginners’ guide. A competent lawyer will be able to provide you with legal advice. I offer more general advice to institutions wanting to open-licence their images or other content, or to work with the Wikipedia community, as part of my professional services.

Licence

This post is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (3.0 Unported) licence. Attribution should include a link to the post, or, in print, the short URL http://wp.me/p10xWg-jM.

Open local public spending data – a potential hitch

There is — quite rightly, in my autocratic and what-does-humble-mean-anyway opinion — a move to have public bodies publish details of every item of spending over £500. I won’t go into the arguments about this, nor the technical issues, because that’s already been done by wiser heads than mine, Oh, OK, wise heads including mine (see comments on the latter document).

However, one thing in particular concerns me. Sometimes, a body — a local council, say, like, but not specifically, the one I work for — will receive grant funding for a project or activity. Such money usually comes with conditions attached.

Now, suppose this funding has two parts: £99,000 to do something which benefits the community as a whole, and £1,000 which must be spent on something seemingly trivial; say, publicising the activity by producing beermats. No beermats; no £99,000 to spend on a worthwhile activity. Such things do happen, if not literally demanding beermats.

Suppose that £1,000 spend is then published, along with hundreds of other items of expenditure. The finance office of the council will not know about the grant funding, or the conditions attached to it, nor do they need to. They will just add an entry to a database, saying “Acme Beer Mats, 1 April 2011: £1,000”, which will then be made available with all the other enteries in that database, as open data

Along come the Daily FMail and the Taxpayer’s Alliance, and before you know it, the media and (ironically, given my frivolous example) bar-rooms up and down the country are full of “Borsetshire Council wastes money on beermats extravaganza on the rates[sic]” headlines.

No doubt the authority will put out a subsequent press statement pointing out the £99,000 of benefits, the unavoidability of the attached conditions, and so on. And no doubt it will receive little if any press attention.

What can council’s do to prevent this scenario? Annotate every spend item in their published data? Surely impractical. List such items separately? I don’t know (and don’t get me wrong, I’m an open-data advocate; and this is a relatively minor matter, which shouldn’t stop such data from being published), but do I hope somebody has an answer.

Over to you…

Footnote: thanks to for encouraging me to blog my rambling comments on this, made during our earlier discussion.

Guardian asks National Secular Society to comment on the ordination of women priests

Much as I support the National Secular Society, asking them to comment on the ordination of women priests is like asking me to advise on the best kind of vaulting-pole.

When writing about the web, links are required

Today’s Telegraph has an interesting article about MPs (and their agents) allegedly bowdlerising articles about themselves on Wikipedia.

What it doesn’t have, though, are links to any of the articles, let alone to the edits under discussion (such as this edit).

The Telegraph needs to understand that the word “Web” in World Wide Web refers to the interlinking of articles on different sites.

Adding links to the articles and edits discussed would serve at least two purposes. It would provide evidence to support the allegations the paper is making; and it would be a convenience and a courtesy their readers.