Jonathan recently wrote about the availability of open dictionaries. In a recent comment to that post someone pointed us to Macmillan’s “Open” Dictionary (the reasons for the quotes will soon be apparent).

With a sense of excitement I followed the link: “Could it be”, I thought, “That a mainstream dictionary producer has decided that open is the way to go?”

Sadly, the answer is no: Macmillan’s “Open Dictionary” isn’t open — at least not in any way we mean by that term.

Their “open” means letting you give them information for free (by submitting word suggestions) but getting nothing back — as the terms and conditions make quite clear you’re not allowed to reproduce the material in any way and even linking could be problematic (emphasis added):

Unless otherwise indicated, this Web Site and its contents are the property of Macmillan Publishers Limited, … The copyright in the material contained on this Web Site belongs to Macmillan or its licensors. … Reproduction of material on this Web Site is prohibited unless express permission is given by Macmillan.

No licence is granted in respect of any intellectual property rights vested in Macmillan or other third parties.

You may not redistribute any of the Content of this Web Site without the prior authorisation of Macmillan or create a database in electronic form or manually by downloading and storing any content.

You may link to the home page and any HTML page of the Web Site provided you do not create a frame or any other bordered environment around the content … You may not link to any other page of the Web Site, other than the home page or any HTML page, without the prior written consent of Macmillan. Macmillan reserves the right to require you to remove any link to this Web Site. You may not replicate the Content on this Web Site.

To my mind this is clear abuse of the term “open” and more than a little exploitative — you do work for them for free and they don’t even promise to give you credit, let alone permission to use the material you helped create.

Such potential for abuse of the “open” label is a major reason we created the open definition — where open content and data are clearly defined as material that you, and others, are free to use, reuse and redistribute without restriction.

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Rufus Pollock is Founder and President of Open Knowledge.

7 thoughts on “Abusing “Open”: Macmillan’s Open Dictionary”

  1. Wow–that’s almost the lamest thing I can imagine a publisher doing. There’s nothing more dumb than designing a bait and switch on people who support openness: We don’t like to be tricked, and we have the platforms for explaining why. This is not going to end well.

  2. I think Mac’s Open Dictionary is ACE!!! Thanks so much for pointing it out to me. I honestly can’t belive that I can submit a word to a dictionary of note like the MED and they’ll not only put it on there site but actually credit me as well! I’ve spent hundreds of hours submitting to Wikipedia and no one will ever know who did the work :-(

    Top marks Macmillan!!

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