Issue 328: Rights Model

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Working Group: 

posted by Simon Spero on 1/3/2017

On Tue, Feb 28, 2017 at 9:07 PM, Robert Sanderson <> wrote:

    Can I then transfer ownership of an E30 Right? No, as you transfer ownership of Physical Things (E18), not of Propositional (E89), Conceptual (E28), Man-Made (E71), Things (E70).

Such a limitation would not really match the way the law thinks of "Rights". "Rights" can be transferred separately from ownership of a physical thing.
For example, if you rent an apartment, the lease is a transfer of the "right" to occupy the premises from the landlord to you, without giving you ownership of the property.

I do agree that treating rights as propositions is somewhat problematic, as in order to be transferable, they would have in some sense to be self-referential, which can be the first step on the road to paradox (No offense intended to the Cretans on the list).

If we treat 'that' as a proposition forming operator, an alienable right r to reproduce a work w might be expressed as:

    r = that[∀x.possess(x,r) → ◇reproduce(x,w)]

[where ◇ is the deontic handwaving operator]. This formulation does not express the ability to further transfer the right;  contexts can make things easier to express. 

Posted by Martin on 1/3/2017

Dear All,

I more or less agree with all of you. The rights model in the CRM is based on evidence from museum documentation so far. It is highly simplified. It is an attempt to achieve a reasonable recall where to look for rights holders. The temporal validity is undefined, and could be sought in the property, which does, as all CRM properties, not specify a validity time, but in principle could. If we accept that the "right holding" is the property, then the right itself is an expression of a sort of a contract. Right holders on museum objects may require very idiosyncratic conditions. Therefore we did not analyze the structure in more detail.

Modelling the legal world has not been an explicit scope of the CRM so far. I would not at all argue against it, but if their is enough interest in doing it seriously, we would need a relevant use case and scope to limit the effort and someone willing to work on a proper extension.

My opinion is, that rights and laws can be perceived as plans that are activated by event patterns. Event patterns are ugly to model.

There are laws regulating rights, and laws egulating laws about rights. There is a lot of literature about rights ontologies,
here one from my lab:

Any serious volunteers?

Otherwise, by a change of interpretation we could assign the temporality to the E30 Right, and then link the contract itself to this entity. If that solves the relevant questions in the domains we are interested in, that could be a straightforward issue proposal.  

Posted by Robert Sanderson on 2/3/2017

Thanks Martin, Simon!

Here are our use cases, which are not at all new, but we had difficulty modeling with the current ontology:

As data providers, and curators of art works, we would like to say that

• we have not evaluated copyright for the object, by reference to or that there is no known copyright with CNK
• the object IS under copyright and we are the holder of it, until such and such date
• an image IS under copyright, and we are the holder of it, and that anyone can use it according to the Creative Commons Zero or CC-BY license
• the object was under copyright and is now in the public domain

Currently I think we need to simply put in a blank node Right, that is P2 to the appropriate license or rights statement without an associated actor. And then have a copyright Right which we possess, and a P2 through to the AAT term for copyright. It’s not very satisfying as it means Right is used in two different ways.

Other than the lack of a “period of ownership” for provenance tracking, we haven’t really seen a need to track ownership or custody as a Right, as Acquisition and Transfer of Custody are already good, events based tools for that.


Posted by Robert Sanderson on 2/3/2017

Just to note that I agree … but the point of the reference to transferring was that there are already well established and useful models for transferring things – E8 Acquisition, E10 Transfer of Custody.  (Plus my little extension of a Payment Activity that transfers MonetaryAmounts)

Thus, the rights of ownership and custody (one might argue that tenancy is a specialization of custody for Places, but thankfully we don’t have that need) are covered already for transferring, and there’s no good way to model the period of ownership of an object by an actor.  So we should look to other potential uses of rights in the general sense to see what could be useful.

E30 seems clunky at best for establishing the other main concerns of museums … copyright of content, and asserting licenses under which that content can be used.

If there’s the possibility of a better way, that would be great 

Posted by Martin on 10/3/2017

Dear Robert,

Attached how I would model your use cases now. Simply and deliberately, the CRM describes rights so far
only as current state. Note that the triangle P75,P104, P105 circumscribes a state of "Right Holding" in the centre of the triangle, which would carry a time interval. If we introduce this class, P75,P104, P105 become shortcuts of three new properties connecting the rights holding to the corners.

I post this as issue, if this should be added to the CRM. I'd personally prefer to work on adequate extensions, because all the world of contracts, laws, business transactions and obligations, plans etc. could be dealt with more coherently separate from the material world view. What about a "CRM social"?

Posted by Martin 10/3/2017

On 28/2/2017 9:50 μμ, Robert Sanderson wrote:
> Dear all,
> Given the current model, I believe that E30 Right is an instance of the holding of a Right, rather than the concept of the Right itself?  For example, E30 is not “Copyright” or “Apache 2.0” or “Ownership” … it is “The holding of copyright of an object by Martin”, “the use of Apache 2.0 for some code by Rob”, or “Ownership of a house by Emma”.
Dear Robert,

Yes, here we should actually talk about three things: The holding of the right, the content of the right, and the concept of the right. E30 is intended to be the content of the right, which is relatively trivial if it is just an instance of unspecified copyright, but not if it is an individual contract. If the holding of the right can be merged with the content or not, is to be discussed. See my previous message. 


Posted by Athina on 20/3/2017

Dear all,

relating to the rights triangle P75,P104, P105 we proposed, here is an interesting case of right holding:
The approach of the tribe is unique: the river is granted legal rights as human-being; can we apply this (rights possessed by river?) in the model? is there a possibility to find an equivalence between human's behavior and a behavior of a phenomenon and in what way? is there a generalization missing?
think about this, 

Posted by Robert Sanderson on 20/3/2017

Apologies for the delay in responding, we’ve been trying to map out the extent of the information we need to track to enable research on historical art markets and ownership.

One of the most interesting and challenging questions that has come up is around joint ownership of a piece of art.  Ownership of an object is clearly a Right, but is it divisible with P148_has_component (via inheritance from E89)?  For example, if two Persons each own 50% of the value of an object, is there an Ownership Right, which has two component Rights, each of which have a dimension of 50% ?

Or would that mean that there are two halves of the expression of the Right, perhaps the main clause and an equally long rider?

I think that answering this question will help with the broader question of the meaning of E30.

Some use cases:
* Two dealers (Knoedler and Goupil) jointly pay for a painting, and later jointly share the profits (or loss!) when it’s sold
* A donor donates 10% of the value of an object each year for 10 years (to spread out the tax write off)
* A married couple divorce and agree to have half share in the value of their statue
* The children of the owner inherit an equal share of the valuable manuscript on the owner’s death
* The object is jointly owned by the city and the museum from when the city and museum were indistinguishable as organizations

Posted by Steve on 21/3/2017

The question of a Right held by multiple people is indeed interesting.
Might it be modelled as all parties forming a Group that then holds the Right?
If the proportions of the Right held by individuals was important then I think your suggestion of component Rights that form part of the overall Right and each having a dimension would do very well.

Posted by Martin on 21/3/2017

Dear Robert, Stephen,

I think these questions are too complex for an e-mail discussion. It is absolutely non-trivial to talk about
50% ownership. The CRM was clearly not made to describe business transaction in the way you mention below. That needs a careful extension and systematic description of the questions. We had formed a team to investigate business models analyzing spectrum, but the partners from Collection Trust dropped out later.

The first action would be to restart that work, form a team, and recover all arguments in the minutes.

As CRM-SIG, we are interested in robust models that we can recommend as standards. That requires a complete understanding of the issues.

The reasoning about owning a physical thing is very different from owning an Information Object. Metaphoric analogies natural language is built on can be very deceiving.

Any user of the CRM can make his own extensions any time. It is not a virtue to reuse CRM constructs for areas not intended to. That causes the typical mess of pseudo-compatiblity.

If we describe physical ownership as a E30 Right, we come in conflict with the property.

I propose to split the questions.


Posted by Simon Spero on 21/3/2017

I was about to write that "It's more complicated than that", but you got there first.
Also your comments over-simplify :-)

The good thing about personal property and intellectual property is that at least they're not real property. That's where things really get confused.

BTW, it is not always possible to treat ownership by more than one legal persons as if they were a single entity. The rights of the parties may differ in different situations. 

posted by Martin on 21/3/2017

I agree. It's horribly complicated.
The art is to break down the issues into treatable units, that answer relevant questions
by priority ranking. Not to model what "Rights" can mean. Any help in separating the questions most welcome.

posted by Oyvind on 25/3/2017

Dear Athina,

I have not moved beyond the article (thanks for posting it, it is a very useful addition to other complex land right issues!) but by reading that it seems like the river has the right of a legal person, not an individual. Is that right? If so, the river can be seen as an organisation, in line with the (and connected to) a group of people (the Whanganui iwi). Or it can be seen as an organisation connected to the two guardians, who will speak on behalf of the legal person (the river).

Can this be seen as similar to, for instance, a trust? Then a lawyer appointed to speak on behalf of the trust would be in line with the two guardians of the river. 

posted by Franco on 25/3/2017

Dear Oyvind

I was interested from the question raised by Athina as well, and started writing a reply similar to yours, but there remained some doubts, so I left it in my large drawer of open issues.

I understand you suggest (as I planned to do) to model the river as an E40 Legal Body. i.e. a subclass of E39 Actor, which, according to its scope note, "comprises people, either individually or in groups, who have the potential to perform intentional actions of kinds for which someone may be held responsible. The CRM does not attempt to model the inadvertent actions of such actors.”

Now, although the statement by the NZ government quoted in the article refers to the “liability” of the river, is there any intentionality in e.g. a flood? Can the river be called in court for the damages? I do not think so. In my opinion, but we should ask Maoris, the river has rights but no intentionality. It is similar to natural persons who are "unfit to plead", for example because of mental insanity or for young age, and so cannot be held responsible for their acts: they cannot have a “mens rea” (guilty mind). This consideration applies to bad behaviour, but of course it applies to good one as well: for them there is no merit or guilt in doing things. Nevertheless, such people have rights: even animals do. They can even hold “legal rights”, for example they may own things, with guardian(s) to act as trustees on their behalf.

Obviously the river guardians have to do anything possible to avoid disasters, but cannot be held responsible for acts of God. So, what is the difference between them and a river authority? This deprives the news of much of its appeal: a National Park has similar “rights” although not defined as a person, which are managed by its director, the government or whatever. The Maori river story seems much more a political/philosophical question rather than a legal one.

However the example, beyond the picturesque news, shows that either there is a need of rephrasing the above-mentioned scope note; or that the CRM is not interested in such situations (I would go for the latter).

If so, who P75 possesses the E30 rights: the guardian, who may be held responsible, or the rightful right owner, who cannot? The E40 scope note suggests it is the guardian, and probably the same holds for the Maori river.

In any case it should be explained in the E40 scope note e.g. that the person(s) having property rights on something may not be an actor because may be incapacitated to be liable and thus, by definition, cannot perform intentional actions. In this case, how do we document ownership? And what is the (CRM) relationship of the guardian to the ward?

In sum:
the river guardians -> E39 Actors
the river itself -> E?
the guardians towards the river -> P?

posted by Martin on 25/3/2017

Dear Franco,

I think your analysis is exactly up to the point. I think the question is not so much, if the CRM is interested in modelling such a thing, obviously it is out of scope so far, but to understand the distinction between human terms and the actual concepts they represent. Clearly, the identification of the river with a human being is a metaphor, which shows how far stretched such metaphors can be, but still be operational if suitably interpreted, otherwise the Maori wouldn't have won the case. That does not mean, that we should extend E39 Actor with this river, nor that the Maori confuse rivers with human actors. Therefore I do not see a need to change the scope note, even if it were in scope. Rather, we have to do with another instance of an even more abstract phenomenon, that might be very interesting to understand some time.

For me, this is a didactic example not to be fooled by surface language terms in ontological analysis. George Lakoff, in "Women, Fire and Dangerous Things" describes this "prototype effect", i.e, how a core metaphor, such as "human being", can be extended in different ways, with no common core meaning.
The question is always which definition of the behaviour of instances of some concept answers which question.

You write: "In any case it should be explained in the E40 scope note e.g. that the person(s) having property rights on something may not be an actor because may be incapacitated to be liable and thus, by definition, cannot perform intentional actions. In this case, how do we document ownership? And what is the (CRM) relationship of the guardian to the ward? "

This touches a fundamental question of exception handling. Since these persons are accidentally handicapped and not a systematic life form, I'd argue that they fall under the "potentially capable of intentional action", and hence are actors.

To be discussed, a very nice topic of logic versus reality, intension versus potential. 

posted by Athina on 27/3/2017

Deal all,

I agree with all of you - basically, this case was a good example to use in order to question models of ownership or transfer of custody relating to rights and actors, that's why I mentioned it,

posted by Christian Emil  on 27/3/2017

The New Zealand example  has a kind of counterpart in the so called Droit Moral/Moral Rights connected with IPR.
( Moral Rights is not limited in time. By decorating a Mona Lisa copy  in a offending manner you can taken to court accussed for violating Leonardo's Moral Right.   Who posesses the rigths?  Leonardo who died 500 years ago?

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