W3C Permissions and Obligations Working Group Solicits Feedback on Specifications

The World Wide Web Consortium Permissions and Obligations Expression (W3C POE) Working Group is soliciting feedback on draft specifications.  Renato Iannella, co-chair of the W3C POE WG and inventor of the ODRL rights language on which it’s based, asked me to pass along this statement:



The W3C Permissions and Obligations Expression (POE) Working Group are delighted to announce the publication of updated Working Drafts of the ODRL Information Model and ODRL Vocabulary & Expression.

The ODRL Information Model offers a framework for the underlying concepts, entities, and relationships that form the foundational basis for the semantics of ODRL expressions. The aim of the ODRL Information Model is to support flexible Policy expressions by allowing the author to include as much, or as little, expressive detail about the terms and conditions for Asset usage, the Parties involved, and obligations.

The ODRL Vocabulary & Expression describes the potential terms used in ODRL Policy expressions and how to serialise them. The terms form part of the ODRL Ontology and formalise the semantics. The wide set of terms in the vocabulary provides the support for communities to use ODRL as the primary language to express common use cases.

These deliverables are the outcome of collaborative effort from the Working Group to meet the identified requirements in the POE Use Cases and Requirements NOTE. We believe the ODRL Information Model document and ODRL Vocabulary & Expression are now technically near completion, and would appreciate your final comments before the WG embarks on the W3C Candidate Recommendation process. We are also eager to hear how you are implementing, or plan to implement, the ODRL Vocabulary & Expression to enable us to better understand the serialisation choices and normative terms.

Please send any comments or examples of how you are using ODRL via the following methods:

  1. Email to <public-poe-comments@w3.org> which is archived
  2. Create an Issue on the POE GitHub Repository

Please send feedback by the 30th April 2017.

We look forward to hearing from you and will respond to all comments.

The W3C Permissions and Obligations Expression Working Group


The POE WG began last year as an effort to create a standard that can be used for applications such as automation of B2B licensing terms.  Iannella designed ODRL — itself the subject of a W3C Community Group — over 15 years ago in the context of DRM.  It has been used successfully in DRM schemes such as the Open Mobile Alliance’s OMA DRM standards in the mid-2000s.  It’s one of two primary rights expression languages (RELs) that emerged during that time period, the other being XRML from ContentGuard (originally from Xerox PARC), a variant of which became an MPEG standard (MPEG-21 REL).

Yet the POE WG isn’t about DRM.  In fact, the working group charter states explicitly that it “will not be considering: access control mechanisms; digital rights management; … enforcement mechanisms” (emphasis in original).  That’s most likely due to sensitivities within the W3C about DRM in particular and rights issues in general.

A language for expressing licensing terms for content is a great idea and has been a longtime goal for many.  The biggest problem has been that concepts in rights and licensing are highly specific to niche markets, such as news stories, photos, textbook elements, sound recordings, musical compositions, etc.  Terms in these niches may be similar but the semantics differ.  This has led to many attempts to create standards for communicating rights information within content industry segments, most (though not all) of which have led nowhere.

The W3C is concerned with content that exists as first-class citizens on the open web, which nowadays could be a variety of types of content.  ODRL is highly configurable and extensible, so it’s conceivable that the POE initiative could evolve into sub-initiatives that serve particular market segments, although the type-of-usage (Actions for Permissions and Prohibitions) terms in the existing ODRL Vocabulary & Expression spec are currently a mixture of fairly common or generic license and end-user usage terms.

Right now, the media industry segment that appears most actively represented in the POE Working Group is news publishing: the other co-chair, Ben Whittam Smith, is from Thomson Reuters, and there are other representatives from the Thomson Reuters, the Associated Press, and the BBC.  (A plurality of participants are from academia.)  In fact, the news industry standards body IPTC is maintaining a rights language standard called RightsML, which is also based on ODRL.  I invite news mavens to comment here about any relationships that RightsML and POE have now or will have in the future.

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