Purpose In order to extract the full potential from Internet-wide knowledge sharing and reuse, the underlying copyright issues must be taken into account and managed using Digital Rights Management tools. Design/methodology/approach Traditional Digital Rights Management and open licensing initiatives lack the required computerised support and flexibility to scale to Internet-wide copyright management. Our approach is based on a Semantic Web ontology that conceptualises the copyright domain. Findings The Copyright Ontology facilitates interoperation while providing a rich framework that accommodates copyright law and copes with custom licensing schemes. Research limitations/implications The ontology is based on the Description Logic variant of the Web Ontology Language. Despite its scalability, this variant has some expressive limitations that are going to be coped with the help of Semantic Web Rules in future versions of the ontology. Practical implications The ontology provides the building blocks for flexible machine-understandable licenses and facilitates implementation because existing Semantic Web tools can be easily reused. Moreover, existing initiatives can be mapped to the ontology in order to make it an interoperability hub. Originality/value The paper contributes a novel approach to Digital Rights Management, based on Semantic Web technologies, that takes into account the underlying copyright legal framework. This is possible thanks to the greater expressiveness of the Semantic Web knowledge representation tools
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