Fix the UUA: Demand open standards and open licensed resources

Think of a traditional wedding service. “Dearly beloved . . . ” This image of the traditional wedding service (no doubt) became traditional because most American Protestants used some variation (depending on which edition was authorized when the adoption took place) of the US Episcopal Church’s wedding service as their own. To a lesser degree, the same is true of funeral services. All of this is possible because, in the United States, the Book of Common Prayer has always been in the public domain. It became influential because it could be adopted, even when changed. Look to the services in the “old red hymnal” and you would think the Unitarians and Universalists of 1937 owed as much or more to the Episcopalians as their own forbears. The Universalist prayerbook of 1894 is plainly a revision of the BCP of 1892.

When intellectual rights are relaxed — not even as far as public domain, but including such — it is possible for different people to build on common work, each giving it a particular nuance, without having to start from scratch. Sure, in theory, I could make a few cents licensing my sermons, but who would buy them? I created them for the glory of God and the edification of a particular congregation. Sermons don’t age well, as a rule. I would rather see someone take what they can, and re-craft it for another use than see it mildew, with all rights reserved. This phenomeon scales larger, too. An denominationally-minded people — without regard to which denomination — have a yen to make all the resources they need from scratch. What a waste. We could and should share ideas.

We talk about the UUA being a service agency, but I think it would help if we demanded of the administration and each other resources that we could share and develop. As I get a chance, I’m going to go back and re-license some of the more valuable and practical articles I wrote for this express purpose. Several bloggers have made all their works open licensed, to one degree or another. Let’s not be afraid to riff on one another. It will save us time, effort, and money. Use resources — like Wikipedia — and add to them. Google, through its advance search function, allows you to look particularly for these.

Likewise, I’ve not been very keen on ideas of information maintainance that (a) depends on proprietary software or (b) data in proprietary formats. It breeds lock-in, and stifles creative and useful alteration of our own data. So I’m not keen on any effort to centralize district data-keeping, or the use of commercial browse-in services. Better i think to agree to certain standards of data management, and then promote that software (whatever its provenance, cost, or license) that meets the standard.

Perhaps the folk at 25 can take a cue from their next-door-neighbor. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has made world headlines over its insistance that its data should be free, much to Microsoft’s ire and woe.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


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