What does "Open Knowledge" Mean?

G. Wiesen

Open knowledge refers to knowledge or information that is considered “open” or without any kind of legal ownership. This means that a work of art or literature that has been created as “open” would not be protected by copyright, and any copyright owned by the creator of that work would be considered renounced by its owner. Similarly, a piece of software is often called “open,” usually as “open source,” when its creator does not claim ownership of the code used in making the software and anyone else is free to use it. Open knowledge is the basis for a great deal of work done in free computer software development, and usually applies to older works of art as well.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

While the term “open knowledge” may not necessarily be used in legal proceedings, it is used as a general term to refer to intellectual property over which no one claims ownership. This type of knowledge is free to access and use by anyone interested, without gaining any type of permission and without legal restriction. Many works can be used freely with permission from their owners, or under certain terms and conditions, but these do not constitute open knowledge. True open knowledge exists without conditions and can be used at will by anyone who wishes to do so.

This term is often used with reference to computer software or coding that is created as open knowledge for others to use. Software is typically considered protected by copyright law at the moment of its creation, usually under the same terms as works of literature. When someone creates a piece of software, but does so without claim of ownership over the source code used to make that software, it will often be referred to as “open source.” This type of open source software can sometimes have restrictions placed on its usage, such as those who use it cannot do so for profit, but this is not always the case.

When open source software does not have any type of legal restriction placed on its usage, then it constitutes open knowledge. Older works of art that are no longer protected by copyright law, such as those considered to be “public domain,” are also part of open knowledge. Other forms of intellectual property ownership, such as a patent or trademark, can also be dissolved to create this sort of knowledge. This is usually done at the discretion of the original owner, but once ownership is legally eliminated, it is available for use by anyone who wishes to do so.

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