Open access license
If you are sharing your data or code freely, you might be wondering why you should be using a license, but making your data freely available to others doesn't mean that you shouldn't establish in which way it can be used. This is were open access licenses come in handy and this is why you can have different flavours of the same open access license.
Here we summarise the ones we commonly use, for a much more detailed view of these licenses ANDS (the Australian National Data Services) has a comprehensive guide which covers also copyright. The important thing to understand about copyright is that it is usually hold by your own institution, even if you are publishing with CLEx. This is because CLEx is not a legal entity and your institution has the Intellectual Property of your work (see below). When you apply a license to your data, you are doing so on behalf of your institution. Unless there are particular circumstances around your data, for example if it is already covered by an agreement or is of a sensitive nature, most institutions have an open access policy and would be fine with a open access license. If you are in doubt, check with your institution if they are fine with the license you want to use.
Common license rules
Before looking at the different flavours of licenses, we need to understand what are they covering. First of all these are all open access licenses so by applying one of them you are usually giving free access to your data, which means that you are not charging for using your data. However, you can regulate how a potential user can access and use your data. Usually a license will cover some or all of the following points:
- Attribution: a user is required to cite and/or acknowledge your data, this is usually included in any license so make sure you are also sharing the information on how to do so.
- Commercial use and/or research use: you can limit the use of your data to research only or exclude any commercial use and/or redistribution of your data.
- Distribution vs private use: if a user can distribute your data/software or can only use it for his own work
- License and copyright notice: a copy of the license and copyright has to be included with the data or software.
- Modification: a user can modify, augment or transform your data to create a new dataset or software
- Same license: the dataset or software resulting from modification of yours has to be distributed under the same license, so they cannot restrict the use of their derived product.
- No-Derivatives: if a user modify, augment or transform the data in any way they cannot redistribute it. This can be changed of course if they get in contact with the creator and they allow an exception. In fact, this is often the reason why this clause is added so to be kept informed of how the data is used.
The last two apply only to software
- Disclose source: source code must be made available when derived product is distributed
- State changes: any changes made must be documented
Finally licenses usually contain a disclaimer to cover warranty and liability, i.e. that the data or software is provided "as is" and that the copyright owner cannot be considered responsible for any damages derived by using the product.
As you can see there are a lot of different flavours, usually any license will cover "attribution", which is also usually the main reason to apply a license: to get your work recognised!
Licenses are really useful for both the "data" creator and the user, it helps a potential user to work out quickly if the data is suitable for their intended use and helps them citing and using the data in the way the creator wants them too.
While we consider both datasets and code as a form of data, from a licensing point of view they are treated differently. For datasets we suggest the Creative Commons licenses. As well as the international version, there is also an Australian Creative Commons. These licenses are simple to use, they offer 6 different flavours, which cover most use cases, and an online tool to help you choose between them. They have a human readable version as well as the legal text and finally the International version was created to cover your data independently of the potential user country of origin.
Creative Commons use abbreviation for each of the options:
- BY - for attribution which is always present, sharing right is also implicit in any CC license
- NC - for not commercial
- SA - for share alike
- ND - for not derivates
Check this 5 minutes video to learn more of the available combinations:
The CoE advice if you are unsure which one to use is to use the International CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.
For software you can refer to the Open Source initiative and the Software Sustainability Institute. They both offer a good introduction, SSI also lists several other websites covering available licenses in a human readable way and useful comparison tools. Among these:
from github: https://choosealicense.com/licenses/
from TLDR Legal: https://tldrlegal.com/licenses/browse
They both summarise licenses by their "rules".
We usually apply the Apache 2.0 license to the code we produce. Creative Commons are not suitable for licensing software, as stated on the Creative Commons website:
" ... Unlike software-specific licenses, CC licenses do not contain specific terms about the distribution of source code, which is often important to ensuring the free reuse and modifiability of software. Many software licenses also address patent rights, which are important to software but may not be applicable to other copyrightable works. Additionally, our licenses are currently not compatible with the major software licenses, so it would be difficult to integrate CC-licensed work with other free software. Existing software licenses were designed specifically for use with software and offer a similar set of rights to the Creative Commons licenses. "
Apache 2.0 applies the following
Summarised this means that commercial and private use, distribution and modification are all allowed. A user can also use parts of the code covered by patent, should there be any. A user has to attach the original license and copyright notices to any derived product they want to distribute, as well as stating any changes made. Finally the software creator cannot be hold liable for damages and they share the product "as is" with no warranty and the license does not grant trademark rights.
How to apply a license
Once you have decided which license to apply it is usually fairly easy to apply it to your dataset or code.
When publishing a dataset with NCI for example we create a license.txt file which contains the chosen license legal text.
At the top of the file we specified the dataset title ( referred to as "licensed material") and the owner of the work we are licensing (referred to as "licensor").
You can see the license online at
Licensor - ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science (ARCCSS) - Level 4, Mathews Building, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia, 2052, Phone: +61 2 9385 9393, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Licensed Material - <dataset title> (version 1.0)
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License
By exercising the Licensed Rights (defined below), You accept and agree to be bound by the terms and conditions of this Creative Commons ....
IThe license.txt file then will be available on the NCI dataset catalogue together with the files. Also we will use the appropriate url link to the Creative Commons website in the files global attributes and in the metadata records we produce.
Other publisher usually have similar requirements.
When we publishing or even simply share our software the license is both available in the code repository as a lceinse.txt file and included in the actual files.
#!/usr/bin/env python # Copyright 2019 ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes # author: "author name" <"author-email"> # # Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the "License"); # you may not use this file except in compliance with the License. # You may obtain a copy of the License at # # http://www.apache.org/licenses/LICENSE-2.0 # # Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software # distributed under the License is distributed on an "AS IS" BASIS, # WITHOUT WARRANTIES OR CONDITIONS OF ANY KIND, either express or implied. # See the License for the specific language governing permissions and # limitations under the License.
It is important that whichever license you choose the owner, author and title of the work are clear, including the source in case of a derived work this is what anyone who wants to use your work should be using to generate a correct attribution. Even better you should be providing the citation text yourself.