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Institut für Rechtsfragen der Freien und Open Source Software

What is ‚open‘? – Version 2 of the Open Definition of the Open Knowledge Foundation published

What is ‘open’? This might seem like a theoretical question, but it is not. While the term ‘open’ is widely used, it can have very different interpretations, depending on the context. Especially in the Open Source and Free Software community, this has led to huge debates in the past.

The latest news item in this regard is the publication of version 2 of the Open Definition by the Open Knowledge Foundation.

In this definition, ‘open’ is used as it is in the Open Source Definition ( and matches with the terms ‘free’ or ‘libre’ as used in the Definition of Free Cultural Works.

Pursuant to section one of the definition, to qualify as open under the Open Definition a work has to be available under an open license without contradicting additional terms, the work has to be available in full for at most reproduction costs and license compliance has to be facilitated. Furthermore, to enhance interoperability, any open work pursuant to the definition has to be provided in an open format, preferably even machine readable.

In section 2, the requirement of an ‘open’ license as set out in section is defined. Most importantly, it states that the license must be irrevocable, has to allow free use and allow redistribution, modification, separation and compilation. This is very much in line with previous definitions, however it is much more explicit in its terms and the language used.

The open definition even goes a step further than traditional open definitions, in that it states that the license used shall not discriminate against persons or groups or by use.

Pursuant to the Open Definition, clauses such as share-alike and attribution constitute an acceptable condition exempted under section 2.2

Interestingly, per section 2.2.6 distribution may be prohibited if technical measures impose restrictions, which does not seem to suit the spirit of the rest of the definition. An additional matter of importance: Non-aggression agreements such as in patent law are also exempted from ‘breaking’ the openness as per the definition.

Overall, version 2 of the Open Definition continues the work started by version 1.0 and 1.1 and is in their spirit, but is updated to reflect changes in the development of policies and legislation as well as is made more explicit, which should make it easier to use it to help future partners with open content to choose an acceptable license that open-data activists can work with untethered.