For Open Access Week we spoke with Sam Giffney creator of Zenbu, a New Zealand based directory set of geotagged businesses. Sam is an avid follower of free culture, and if you followed the last featured profile of Koordinates it’s handy to know that Zenbu data is freely available under its Creative Commons Attribution licence on the Koordinates platform.

How did you hear about Creative Commons, and what was it that got you interested?

I am a long time fan of the Science Fiction books of Cory Doctorow which are CC licensed. I think Cory introduced me to the book Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig which lays out the fascinating history of copyright and excellent arguments for Creative Commons. I highly recommend Lessig’s book to anyone with an interest in how copyright got to the state it is in today.

Why did you choose an Attribution licence for Zenbu?

We use the Creative Commons Attribution licence Why? A number of reasons.

1. Any project that crowdsources needs to supply something in return, Zenbu relies on the input of the masses and it seems only fair that we make that data freely available.

2. The biggest problem Zenbu would face for a long time is obscurity. A CC Licence is a way to give forwards in an attempt to build up the critical mass needed to succeed. Data security, with respect to copyright, would just be a distraction.

3. Zenbu is a collection of facts from the real world, the same basic information that you can see on shop signs as you walk down the street: names, addresses, phone numbers, opening hours. Everyone agrees that facts can not be subject to copyright but, according to an early conversation I had with a Yellow Pages IP lawyer, “version of fact” can be copyright. Interestingly an Australian Federal court recently ruled that Sensis has no copyright in the White or Yellow Pages. This issue is a field day for lawyers and a minefield for everyone else. The Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 licence has no restrictions on sharing or commercial use; it is the most open license available with the one small caveat that Zenbu should be attributed. It is the least imposing way we can try to create a virtuous circle that means more and more people will feed information into Zenbu and make it an authoritative source.

4. We use the non-localised version because one day I would like Zenbu to be global.

How does the act of content sharing fit into the work you do, or the product you offer to others?

Zenbu is a collaboratively edited directory of businesses and places. Content sharing is the heart of all activity on Zenbu.

Have you had any unexpected new uses of the content you work with since licensing under CC?

Zenbu data keeps popping up all over the place. I’ve heard of a secondary school teacher using it their geography classes. I’ve heard of government agencies using it in research. There’s also a whole bunch of projects who openly use the data to enhance their products.

I think one of the coolest examples was a tech student who approached me about creating an iPhone app using Zenbu data for his final project. Zenbu already had an iPhone app but this student really nailed the user interface and his app Find! NZ was number one in the App Store navigation category continually for a year after the launch.

Future plans for your project?

As of October 2010 we have 95,000 entries in Zenbu New Zealand, which is probably about 40 per cent of New Zealand business, although we do have excellent coverage in the most searched categories like restaurants and accommodation. I’m looking forward to the day when Zenbu has it all, like the logo says “Zenbu. Find Everything”.

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