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Creative works and digital representations: challenges for Linked Open Data and Open GLAM best practice

Over the past three years, I have worked on the project Structured Data on Wikimedia Commons, with a focus on the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) sector. In this project, the free media repository Wikimedia Commons (a sister project of Wikipedia) was technically extended so that files there can now be described with multilingual and machine-readable structured data (or Linked Open Data). This structured data uses entities (items and properties) from Wikidata, the multilingual linked knowledge base of the Wikimedia ecosystem.

Video with a short introduction about Structured Data on Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Many members of the volunteer-driven Wikimedia community actively work together with cultural institutions on so-called GLAM-Wiki projects. As a result, Wikimedia Commons contains millions of files that show (encode; are surrogates of; represent) creative works, and Wikidata contains many entities that describe creative works.

The recent deployment of Structured Data on Wikimedia Commons highlights the distinction between separate metadata for creative works (often described on Wikidata) and files depicting and/or representing these creative works (described in structured data on Wikimedia Commons), an issue that is especially typical for Commons files that have been donated by GLAMs. My blog post Structured Data on Commons and GLAM: open questions and fresh challenges describes this issue in a bit more depth.

A graphic that shows a sculpture (Nefertiti bust) with its metadata, and a photograph of that sculpture with metadata as well

This distinction also matters for copyright labelling, as the example above illustrates: a sculpture can be in the public domain, while a photograph of that sculpture might receive copyright in certain jurisdictions, and then also have a Creative Commons licence.

This issue is very important for Open GLAM: in some legislations, faithful digital representations of public domain works shouldn’t get additional copyrights. This principle is also frequently applied on Wikimedia Commons, a website based in the United States. The text of Article 14 of the new EU Copyright Directive for visual works of art points in that direction too — confirming that faithful digital reproductions of public domain works should stay in the public domain.

Kamāl ud-Dīn Behzād: Construction of the fort of Kharnaq فارسی: ساختن قصر خورنق. circa 1494–5, British Museum, labelled Public Domain on Wikimedia Commons

These topics have piqued the interest of a diverse group of people in the Open GLAM community. In May 2020, a group of participants from the Wikimedia Foundation, Creative Commons, the Europeana network, DPLA, and Wikimedians gathered for a first brainstorm around these topics. You can read the notes of that discussion here.

Among other things, the group discussion touched upon the following topics:

While quite specialised, these topics deserve deeper attention from the Open GLAM community; this post is an invitation to join that conversation. Are you interested in (some of) the questions outlined above? Do you have any ideas or insights to share, or would you like to take part in further discussions and drafting of recommendations? Feel free to join the conversation through any of the channels mentioned below.

Here are some of the ways to get in touch:




Open GLAM presents global perspectives on open access to the cultural heritage in Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAMs). Submissions are welcome so please get in touch.

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Sandra Fauconnier

Sandra Fauconnier

Wikimedian, art historian interested in art and technology, fan of OpenGLAM and Linked Open Data.

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