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There is an online dataset that is freely available (though the licence and copyright situation is unclear). Users are actively (and voluntarily) contributing minor corrections and additions via forum posts. These users are not explicitly claiming any copyright, but nor are they explicitly dedicating their contributions into the 'public domain' or similar. The posts are collaborative in nature - users are deliberately contributing corrections with the hope that they make their way in to the master dataset for the benefit of others (similar in spirit to how people make contributions to open source software).

It's clear that these contributions are being 'given' to the public domain (in the general sense), but does that mean that they are in the public domain (in the legal sense)? Are these corrections/additions convered by any copyright?

(if relevant I think the appropriate law in this case would be UK law, as the users and website are all UK-based)

  • Are you referring to something like openstreetmap? – Jason Aller Sep 19 '18 at 15:28
  • @JasonAller yeah, exactly that kind of idea (but without the clear licencing that OSM has). Sorry for being a bit vague, I'm deliberately not referencing the site itself for reasons I don't want to go in to here :) – stripybadger Sep 19 '18 at 15:44
  • Yes. But, often they are subject to a creative commons license or something similar. – ohwilleke Sep 19 '18 at 23:26
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This is the general problem of unlicensed ostensibly public material. You do not have to "claim" copyright, you have it automatically. You may or may not exercise that right by suing a person for infringement; there may or may not be a "right", for a given individual's contribution. If I put a database "out there" without any license, others may conclude that they have my permission to make changes, but that is legally a total error – I should distribute the work along with a license of some sort.

If I distribute the database, using e.g. Github as my platform, along with a license that says "I hereby irrevocably dedicate the named work to the public domain", then anyone can copy that work, modify it and redistribute it. Regardless of the license, anyone can post a public comment about the database (assuming the comment itself isn't infringing), for example "It would be clearer if you put the word 'help' in italics", or "I suggest adding the following text....". Those comments need to have their own licensing conditions. That might be most effectively accomplished by a TOS regarding the platform, following Github's model. Without such an automatic license, comments are completely protected, and would require separate public domain licenses to effectively put the comments in the public domain.

That is, legally speaking; obviously, people infer licenses from surrounding circumstances, and they may be completely wrong about what permissions authors would actually grant.

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