Top 10 IP and licensing tips when licensing open data and open content

This guest post has been contributed by Naomi Korn and is based on a series of 10 Minute Blog entries that Naomi has written for the JISC funded OER IPR Support project, for which she is the Project Director. Naomi is the co-author, together with Charles Oppenheim of Licensing Open Data: A Practical Guide.

Editor’s note: This post addresses IP issues surrounding open data and open content rather than open source software. Whilst open data and content is outside OSS Watch’s remit it is, of course, pertinent to the world of open source software and we welcome Naomi’s thoughts and expertise.

1.    Identify the IPR and other legal issues which maybe associated with the data and content you wish to license. For example, even if there are no underlying IPR issues in your data and content, you may be constrained by contractual terms and conditions underpinning the supply of data etc. from third parties to you. You can read more about this at

2. Don’t forget to identify all the layers of rights. There may be more than one layer of copyright materials, other types of IP (such as Performers’ rights) as well as other legal issues (such as Data Protection etc) which will need identifying and managing.

3. Decide how ‘open’ you wish to license your data and content. Issues that may need to be addressed include: – controlling use for non commercial uses only vs. allowing commercial exploitation by third parties and encouraging BCE etc – requirements for attribution vs. the resulting possibility of attribution stacking – controlling reuse and repurposing but sacrificing potential interoperability when blending with content, data as well as software licensed under more open terms.

4. Remember that the more ‘open’ the use and repurposing of your content and data, the greater the risk if you have not cleared all the rights.  This is particularly pertinent for in copyright materials for which the rights holders are either unknown or cannot be traced (so called ‘orphan works’). In these situations, the OER IPR Support Risk Management Calculator can be used to establish an indicative risk score which can be used to help inform decisions relating to risk management.

5. Risk Management is increasingly important in the provision of access to open content where it may not be clear who created what and who owns what rights (if any). An organisation’s relationship to risk management should be supported from the bottom-up, by a realistic understanding of the nature of the work and its proposed use, and by the top-down recognition that an organisation’s understanding and acceptance of necessary risks, needs to be agreed, captured in policies and where possible, mitigated. This is an important component in the development of an appropriate corporate governance framework to support the delivery of open content and open data.

6. Consider how the licensing of your data and content relates to the licensing of other types of materials such as open source software, and whether one broader licence, such as the Open Government Licence which covers data, software, content etc might be more beneficial than multiple licences.

7. Clear permissions with any third parties (as per 1 above), making sure that permissions that are sought are either the same or more than the permissions that you then grant under your selected open licence – never less! The support video profiled on the OER IPR Support webpages can provide more insight about this issue.

8. Remember, open licences are often irrevocable, global and in perpetuity, so make sure that you are happy with what you intend to do with your data and content before you licence it out. Worst case, openly licensed resources can be removed from the web etc., but permissions granted up to that point cannot be revoked.

9. Get permissions in writing, such as emails etc from any third party rights holders. Verbal permission is not adequate.

10. Extract key information relating to third party permissions and store in a suitable system which is centrally accessible to prevent the ‘siloing’ of core rights management information. This is particularly important if projects are funded for a specific period time, such as JISC Projects, but where the permissions to use the materials may be subject to certain limitations and/or crediting requirements etc, as well as ensuring that there is a place to record rights holders contact details in case further contact is required.