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Words Mean Things (A Glossary)

Context around certain words and how they are used in this resource

Published onOct 19, 2020
Words Mean Things (A Glossary)
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Words Mean Things (A Glossary)

Words are important, and often contested. They can depend heavily on context, or carry meanings with specific consequences – sometimes legal. For strategic reasons, some of these words are addressed in their respective sections and with greater care than a glossary permits. In the context of this resource, here is how we’ll use the following words.  

  • Audience is sometimes criticized as a term for communicating a one-way relationship that holds GLAMs in a position of authority with the public as a passive actor, spectator, or receiver of information. In this resource, “audience” carries a more dynamic meaning: audiences are participants who hold their own agency and authority.

  • Author is a legal term used to refer to a person who makes a creative work and first owns the rights associated with it. With a literary work (like a book), the author is the writer. With an artistic work (like a painting), the author is the artist. With music (like a composition), the author is the composer, and so on. It may seem counterproductive to refer to this diverse group of creators as “authors.” But copyright law does not make distinctions among the authors of creative works. (See also Rights holder.)

  • Collection can refer to a specific set of items bound by a common denominator (e.g., a donor or genus). It is also used to refer to a given GLAM’s entire collection.

  • Community is used in open GLAM to describe various networked relationships, localization initiatives, and engagement by volunteers, crowdsourcing, general or specific user-groups (e.g., in Wikipedia and Creative Commons), a given geographic area, and so on. For legal purposes, “community” can also describe a group of diverse and distinct individuals with a shared legal injury, or a group of actors disenfranchised from participating in international legal systems due to their non-state legal status. We acknowledge the oppressive ways in which “community” can be used, and actively resist allowing this word to be co-opted.1

  • Copyright refers to copyright (common law jurisdictions) and authors’ rights (civil law jurisdictions), rather than the wider category of rights falling under the intellectual property umbrella. When appropriate, “IPR” is used to signal rights in addition to copyright, like sui generis rights, performers’ rights, or patents.2 We generally aim for specificity. 

  • Cultural heritage is a very loaded term, and some might even contest its use.3 Here, it is used in the broadest sense possible, even generically, to include scientific, information, data, and other collection types and materials. It also refers to intangible aspects of cultural heritage, like songs, practices, expressions, and dance, which may remain intangible or made “tangible” through its documentation or recording.

  • Data conveys the wider category of GLAM collections data, like both digitized and born digital images, descriptive data, metadata, paradata, and other materials. For open GLAM, recognizing collections as data is key to unlocking their computational value for purposes like text and data mining, data visualization, mapping, image or audio analysis, network analysis, and machine learning.4 Also, we’ll use the singular form of data (e.g., “data is” rather than “data are”). For all you data pluralists, just get on board with it now and things will be easier. 

  • Digital surrogates describes digital items of cultural heritage made for archival,  reproduction, or other purposes in digital formats (that may or may not exist yet). These digital items can range in quality depending on the purpose of the digitization, the reproduction technologies at hand, or post-production editing processes, and might include digital photographs or scans of 2D and 3D objects and archival materials. 

  • Digitization refers to the process of converting cultural materials and collections into digital formats.

  • Digitalization refers to the potential associated with the more straightforward digitization of cultural heritage, for example by connecting the new data to data already out there via digital technologies.

  • GLAM is traditionally used to refer to Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums. While this term is imperfect and underinclusive, no alternative is put forward. Instead, GLAM is used as shorthand and intended to encompass anyone within the scope of activities discussed in this resource, including private or commercial organizations and owners involved in the reproduction and management of cultural heritage, as well as individuals and users. 

  • Good practice conveys “best practice” while recognizing it can have a limited lifespan or applicability. Best practices should be (and often are) continuously revisited and revised according to new information and better methods. 

  • Innovation literally means “the action or process of innovating,” but it increasingly appears as a buzz-word among technology initiatives with extractive capitalist and Neo-liberal goals. In this resource, we’ll use it for various reasons: to push back against this narrative and the harm such initiatives cause; to describe even the smallest innovative acts that may be purely experimental or go unnoticed; to encourage owners to look beyond the low-hanging of copyright in reproduction media when innovating around the public domain; and to illustrate how IPR can impede new innovations, along with new knowledge generation and creativity.

  • Labels are informative statements that communicate the rights or permissions status of a work (e.g., “In Copyright”). These are not enforceable in a court of law. The onus remains on users to ensure reuse is compliant with IP law. (See also Licenses and Tools.)

  • Licenses are legally enforceable mechanisms that allow a rights holder to grant permissions for the use and distribution of a work. (See also Labels and Tools.)

  • Metadata refers to data about digital media, which might be automatically generated, manually created, and/or embedded in using collections data, for example, from the digital asset management system (DAMS). It might include basic descriptive data on the file, the artwork, the institution, etc., in addition to other information stored with the digital file. There are a number of metadata schemas used across the GLAM sector to order and record the various information that might accompany a digital file. Related to metadata, paradata will include the process by which a digital file has been created or modified.

  • Open refers to a policy or practice that allows reuse and redistribution of materials for any purpose, including commercial. Prohibitions of commercial reuse disqualify a policy or practice from being characterized as open. A number of international initiatives rely on this meaning of open to define data reuse, including the Open Knowledge Foundation.

  • Open GLAM refers to the movement. Open GLAM relates to and overlaps with other open initiatives, like open access, open science, open source, or open innovation. (See also OpenGLAM.)

  • OpenGLAM refers to a group (note the lack of spacing between “Open” and “GLAM”). OpenGLAM is the specific group of people and organizations (with a new website!) supporting the open GLAM movement. (See also open GLAM.)

  • Orphan work refers to a creative work that may or may not be protected by copyright, but which cannot be conclusively determined due to various missing information. This might be the identity or location of the author or rights holder (if different) to request reuse permissions if in-copyright, or even the date of creation, publication or the author’s death, which may be necessary to determine the public domain status of the work. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) defines orphan works as “copyrighted works whose owners are difficult or even impossible to locate.” But there are also a lot of works that are in copyright purgatory, in that they might be in the public domain but not enough information is known to make that determination.

  • Owner refers to the possessor of, for example, a material object and/or a digital surrogate in this resource. It is helpful to distinguish “owner” from “rights holder,” because the owner may not own the IPR associated with the material object or digital surrogate. This is often the case with cultural heritage institutions, which steward creative works made by authors who have either retained the IPR or transferred it to another party (i.e., the rights holder), unless the IPR has expired. (See also Rights holder.)

  • Public domain refers to the category of works for which IPR has expired. In other words, no IP laws prohibit their reuse, although other restrictions may apply. Importantly, this does not refer to the “physical” public domain, which is commonly used to describe something made publicly available (e.g., “That information is in the public domain.”). A work may be in the physical public domain, yet remain protected by IPR – thus preventing it from being in the intellectual public domain. GLAMs are also quasi-public spaces, so let’s just table and avoid the concept of the physical public domain altogether. 

  • Remix is both an action and a process. It refers to taking media and altering or incorporating it into a new work, but it can also be an important action-based method for creative and critical interrogation. Put another way, “remix challenges our cultural beliefs about authorship and ownership; passive consumption and active participation; creativity, critique, and claim.”5

  • Reproduction media describes the breadth of media, digital and material, in existence and generated over decades of (or centuries) stewardship. This might include: material surrogates and associated data and documentation; digital surrogates in 2D or 3D formats, any component parts, and media generated during reproduction, like metadata, paradata, software, or code; and emerging and future formats made via technological advancement.

  • Rights holder is a legal term used to refer to a person who holds the IPR in a creative work. This may or may not be the author. The author is the first owner of the IPR, but may assign some or all rights to a third party during their lifetime. Those retained by the author will transfer to an heir upon their death. (See also Author and Owner.)

  • Tools refer to two Creative Commons mechanisms (i.e., marks or tags) that can be used to communicate the public domain status of a work. The CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication (CC0) tool is a waiver of copyright that dedicates the work to the worldwide public domain and acts as a fallback license in countries that do not permit waiver. The Public Domain Mark (PDM) tool is designed for informational purposes to communicate the worldwide public domain status of a work. The person or institution applying the PDM does not hold rights to the work, but can say with some degree of certainty that the work is in the public domain around the world. Tools are not licenses. (See also Licenses and Labels.)

  • Traditional Knowledge (TK) (and Traditional Cultural Expression) is a legal and cultural heritage term that lacks an international definition, but is described by WIPO as “knowledge, know-how, skills and practices that are developed, sustained and passed on from generation to generation within a community, often forming part of its cultural or spiritual identity,” and, in particular, the “knowledge resulting from intellectual activity in a traditional context,” including “innovations.”6 Traditional Cultural Expression (TCE) refers to the forms in which traditional culture may be expressed, like music, dance, art, performances, or ceremonies, and is key to a cultural identity.7 This resource’s use of these terms extends to contemporary and ongoing forms of traditional knowledge that occur outside of traditional contexts.8 We may also use “traditional knowledge” to refer to both TK and TCE, unless it is important to clarify TCE independently. 

  • Work refers to an output. Sometimes the work is creative and will attract copyright; sometimes it’s not and will be in the public domain from the moment of creation. 

There will be other words throughout this paper that could have been included in this list. But the purpose here is to improve clarity around our use for this paper, rather than establish any working or concrete definitions.

Note to the reader: as you review the text, consider making note of other terms you feel would be useful to define here, or for the Declaration.


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Saskia Scheltjens: How does all this relate to very similar discussions and sometimes identical concepts in the academic world like Open Access https://www.fosteropenscience.eu/taxonomy/term/7, Open Science https://www.fosteropenscience.eu/taxonomy/term/7, Open Data https://www.fosteropenscience.eu/taxonomy/term/6 and the acronym FAIR refering to the FAIR data principles ex. https://www.force11.org/group/fairgroup/fairprinciples