Module 14 – Data Licensing

In our previous module:

We discussed data citation and asked you to think about the tools you would need to cite that data!

In this module we will be answering those questions, with this tutorial on data licensing!

Data licensing is a necessary component of sharing data, but it is not an automatic process. While the process is simple, there still are considerations to take into account when choosing which license to apply. Some data repositories require certain licenses over others, and some grants or project funders may specify licenses that must be applied for full funding (an example is that some grants may require your data to be open access for you to receive full funding, so you’ll want to make sure the license you apply meets that requirement.) However, if nothing is specified, you will have to choose your own license! See the guide below to help you choose:

Shaddim; original CC license symbols by Creative Commons, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Alright, first let’s go through each license in this photo and what they mean.

This picture goes from most shareable and open, to least shareable and open.

Let’s start with CC. CC stands for Creative Commons, which is a non-profit organization. They focus on educating people and helping make it possible to legally share creative and scientific works.

  • CC0 – means that no rights are reserved, and a work is fully in the public domain. Public domain works can be used, re-used, enhanced and yes, even made to sell by anyone for anything!

Example: the original works of Shakespeare! They are no longer under copyright and so you are free to do what you want with them, including pretend they are your own, although it is likely people will know that it’s not true.

  • CC-BY – means very similar to CC0, you can re-use, re-mix and even use it commercially, but credit must be given using the proper citation to the original creator! That’s it, once you give credit, you’re golden.

Example: If Shakespeare’s works were licensed with CC-BY then you could sell a copy of his works, or put them on as a play, or modify that play to be about zombies or dragons, or any other creature, so long as you made it clear that Shakespeare wrote the original work.

Another example of this is the graphic we used for this tutorial, which we were allowed to use as we saw fit so long as we made it clear that Shaddim is the creator.

  • CC-BY-SA is the next step in that, it has the same terms as CC-BY, however, with the added caveat that if you re-use, remix or otherwise modify the material you must share it under the same kind of licensing, give credit and allow others to modify it as well – in essence your work must be allowed to be modified too!

Example: You find an image of sea turtles that you really like, and you want to re-use it to make a meme. It is licensed under CC-BY-SA, so all you have to do is create your meme, give credit to the original photographer and make sure that everyone knows they can re-use your meme for whatever they want, so long as both the original photographer and you are credited!

  • CC-BY-NC means that you can share, change and remix the work, but only if credit is given and only if it is for non-commercial purposes! If you make a profit that means it is in violation of the license!

Example: If you made your sea turtle meme from a picture with this license you would still have to give the photographer credit, but you would not have to let anyone else use your modified work and you would not be able to use the meme commercially.

Note: Using something commercially encompasses more than just generating a profit or directly selling the product. It also means it can’t be used to advertise a product for sale or contribute to someone making money from it. It has to be shared freely. Non-commercial licenses, mean you cannot do any of those!

  • CC-BY-NC-SA – this is the next evolution of the previous license, wherein you can remix, and re-use, with credit, in a non-commercial fashion, so long as your shared version is given the same license! You must let others reuse your work!

Example: This is the same as the previous example, except you have to specify that the only thing your sea turtle meme cannot be used for is to generate a profit.

  • CC-BY-ND – This one differs in the fact there are no adaptations allowed. You are free to distribute and share the work in its entirety, for commercial gain, so long as it is unaltered and credit is given to the creator.

Example: If someone licensed their short story with CC-BY-ND, it means that you too could sell their short story, but you can’t adapt it, ie. make it into a film, video game etc. You can’t make any alterations and must give the original author credit.

  • CC-BY-NC-ND – This one is the more restricted version of the previous license. You are free to share the work in its entirety, as long as it is unchanged, fully credited and you are not profiting or gaining anything financially from it.

Example: This is the same as the previous license, you can share the short story, can’t adapt it and no commercial use is allowed.

Understanding licenses is important to be certain you are using data and your data is being used appropriately and in the way it is intended.

How To Apply A License

There are a few possible ways to apply a license to your dataset: within the metadata, by choosing the license when submitting to a repository or by setting up a Readme File for the dataset with the license in it. Applying a license is free, and once it is done the decision is final. This is why it is important to think about what license you will use early in your project planning. Doing so will make sure that there are no surprises or hurried decisions later when going to submit to a repository.

If someone violates the CC license you have applied to your work, there is recourse available. The first suggested action is to determine whether the violation of your license was an accident (in good-faith) or a deliberate subversion of licensing rights (in bad-faith). If it was in good faith, it can be as simple as contacting the person who made the mistake and letting them know that they cited it wrong, or used the wrong level of attribution. In most good faith cases, this issue will be promptly corrected. If the license violation was in bad faith, however, your main step should be to send the applicable copyright takedown notice to the place that hosts the offending material. In the USA that is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which you would send to the host of the journal or data. After that a legal letter is the next step, and then summary legal action involving a lawyer is the last step.

The use of CC is highly encouraged, however there are other licenses such as the open government license of Canada. This is a Canada specific licence which has many similarities to CC-BY. Learn more about it here.

Before you go! Things to consider for the next module:

Do you think CC licensing is an effective way to share data and make sure it is cited properly? Is there anything you would change about the process? If so, how would you improve it?