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Announcing the Open Definition Licenses Service

Rufus Pollock - February 16, 2012 in Open Content, Open Data, Open Definition, Open Knowledge Definition, Open Standards, Our Work, WG Open Licensing

We’re pleased to announce a simple new service from the Open Knowledge Foundation as part of the Open Definition Project: the (Open) Licenses Service.

open licensing

The service is ultra simple in purpose and function. It provides:

  • Information on licenses for open data, open content, and open-source software in machine readable form (JSON)
  • A simple web API that allows you retrieve this information over the web — including using javascript in a browser via JSONP

In addition to the service there’s also:

What’s Included

There’s data on more than 100 open (and a few closed) licenses including all OSI-approved open source licenses and all Open Definition conformant open data and content licenses. Also included are a few closed licenses as well as ‘generics’ — licensed representing a category (useful where a user does not know the exact license but knows, for example, that the material only requires attribution).

View all the licenses available »

In addition various generic groups are provided that are useful when constructing license choice lists, including non-commercial options, generic Public Domain and more. Pre-packaged groups include:

The source for all this material is a git licenses repo on github. Not only does it provide another way to get the data, but also means that if you spot an error, or have a suggestion for an improvement, you can file an issue on the Github repo or fork, patch and submit a pull request.

Why this Service?

The first reason is the most obvious: having a place to record license data in a machine readable way, especially for open licenses (i.e. for content and data those conforming to the Open Defnition and for Software the Open Source Definition).

The second reason is to make it easier for other people to include license info into their own apps and services. Literally daily, new sites and services are being created that allow users to share or create content and data. But when they do that, if there’s any intention for that data to get used and reused by others it’s essential that the material get licensed — and preferably, openly licensed.

By providing license data in a simple machine-usable, web friendly format we hope to make it easier for people to integrate license choosers — and good license defaults — into their sites. This will provide not only greater clarify, but also, more open content and data — remember, no license usually means defaulting to the most restrictive, all rights reserved, condition.

Open Knowledge Definition translated into Telugu (తెలుగు)

Theodora Middleton - November 29, 2011 in Open Definition, Open Knowledge Definition

The following post is by Theodora Middleton, the OKF blog editor.

We are pleased to announce that the Open Knowledge Definition has now been translated into Telugu (తెలుగు), thanks to the hard work of Sridhar Gutam. You can find this at:

The definition has now been translated into 27 languages. If you’d like to translate the Definition into another language, or if you’ve already done so, please get in touch on our discuss list, or on info at okfn dot org.

We need international open government data principles

Jonathan Gray - July 8, 2011 in OGDCamp, Open Data, Open Definition, Open Government Data, Open/Closed, Policy, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data, Working Groups

The following post is from Jonathan Gray, Community Coordinator at the Open Knowledge Foundation.

We need a set of international open government data principles.

Why? Because as the ‘open data‘ meme travels around the world – unlocking information from local, regional and national public bodies as it goes – we want to make sure that we’re all talking about the same thing. We want to make sure we can easily tell data which is open from data which is not open.

Why do we need to make sure that we agree on what ‘open data’ means? Because we want to minimise friction in the data ecosystem. We want an open data ecosystem without borders, barriers, restrictions, exceptions, checklists, registration forms, clickwrap agreements or micro-payments. We want data users – whether they are developers or designers, scholars or journalists – to be able to say:

Aha! This is open data. That means that I know what I can do with it: anything I like!

So far we’ve been very lucky. The vast majority of initiatives around the world calling themselves ‘open data’ initiatives are, indeed, pretty open. There have been a few initiatives which have launched with restrictive, ambiguous or absent legal terms – but this has often been pointed out, and often been rectified.

But why rely on luck? If we really want open government data to scale, to grow from a powerful idea to a powerful, global reality, then perhaps it is time we started to rely on simple, explicit, well-defined principles instead of serendipity to ensure that everyone reaches the same conclusions about what open data is, and what the defining characteristics of an open data initiative are.

Instead of public bodies deciding to do an open data initiative, then debating and wrangling over the legal details, we should try to build a stronger sense that if you want to do an open data initiative, then this entails you make your data open in such and such a way, according to principles which every major open data initiative around the world has signed on to.

These principles would be much less about drafting original content, and much more about building stronger consensus between existing open data initiatives around the world. There is already a lot of implicit agreement about what open data is, as well as lots of good material to build on.

For example, the UK Government’s Public Data Principles say:

Public data will be published in reusable, machine-readable form […]

Public data will be released under the same open licence which enables free reuse, including commercial reuse – all data should be under the same easy to understand licence.

The US’s Open Government Directive says:

To the extent practicable and subject to valid restrictions, agencies should publish information online in an open format that can be retrieved, downloaded, indexed, and searched by commonly used web search applications. An open format is one that is platform independent, machine readable, and made available to the public without restrictions that would impede the re-use of that information.

New Zealand’s NZGOAL Framework says:

[…] State Services agencies should make their copyright works which are or may be of interest or use to people available for re-use on the most open of licensing terms available within NZGOAL (the Open Licensing Principle).

Not to mention things such as the 8 Principles of Government led by civic society developers and NGOs in the US, and the Sunlight Foundation’s 10 Open Data Principles.

The basic message is clear: maximise reusability, minimise restrictions. This message is also unpacked on

A piece of content or data is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it — subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share-alike.

A set of international open government data principles would enshrine some of these ideas into a few clear and simple sentences saying what open data is – and have some mechanism for public bodies around the world to sign on. The key thing is that they would be drafted and adopted by leading open data initiatives around the world – who would also help to encourage others to adopt them.

This need not be an arduous or burdensome process. Signing principles that say open government data is X, Y, and Z, is very different to committing to implement them across government. E.g. most governments will have some open data and some non-open data, some data which is free for everyone to reuse, and some data which isn’t. The main thing is that when governments around the world talk about open data, they agree about what this means, and what it entails.

If you’re interested in this topic you may like to join the open-government mailing list. There will also be further discussion and activity around a set of international open government data principles at Open Government Data Camp 2011 in Warsaw on 20-21st October.

Bulgarian translation of the Open Knowledge Definition (OKD)

Jonathan Gray - June 21, 2011 in OKI Projects, Open Definition, Open Knowledge Definition, WG Open Licensing

The following post is from Jonathan Gray, Community Coordinator at the Open Knowledge Foundation.

We are pleased to now have a Bulgarian translation of the Open Knowledge Definition thanks to Peio Popov. You can find this at:

If you’d like to translate the Definition into another language, or if you’ve already done so, please get in touch on our discuss list, or on info at okfn dot org. to promote free public data

Guest - May 31, 2011 in External, Open Data, Open Definition, Open Government Data, Open/Closed, WG EU Open Data, Working Groups

The following guest post is from Regards Citoyens, a French organisation that promotes open data.

Three months ago, the French Prime Minister announced officially the creation of the EtaLab governmental team, dedicated to the future On Friday May 27th, two official texts have been published: a decree (fr) that defines new juridic rules regarding data licencing, and a circular (fr) intended to all administrative services to precise the processes of data release on the future platform.

The good news is that the lobbyists in favor of paying data lost this battle: free of charge data will be the default rule for new datasets as well as for currently paying data which wouldn’t be registered as such by July 2012. The decision to keep fees on some datasets will have to be discussed by an official commission — unfortunately its board offers a disproportionate representation of private data sellers — duly motivated and officialised by an individual official decree from the Prime Minister. Every paying dataset will further have to be listed on an official repository of paying data. It is sadly still unclear whether this repository will be part of Will real open data be intermixed with paying data on the platform?

Every other data should be released freely under the conditions of a new licence that will be drafted and discussed in the next few months and released by August 24th. The circular states that this licence should follow the free and open principles, even though its designers never took part in the writing of such a licence in the past. We will actively follow this process in order to push for a total compatibility with open data principles such as the Open Knowledge Definition.

Much worse news would be the exclusion from these rules of public administrations with commercial objectives (EPIC) and public service delegations to private businesses, such as transport companies. The circular also offers the possibility for administrations to write their own licences in order to meet some specific, unspecified needs: this might lead to an increasing number of slightly incompatible licences, with the risk of having some datasets undermined by non-commercial clauses.

At last, the circular mentions file formats. It is heartwarming to read the recommandation to use a list of various open formats such as CSV, XML, KML or ODS. It is unfortunate though to read ODS mistakingly listed as a text document format, or to see also the discriminatory format XLS proposed for spreadsheet documents.

To conclude, these official texts are a real progress which strongly encourages French administrations to open their data. But some serious risks remain, and Open Data shall not be restricted to free of charge datasets: open formats and free licences have to be the core of EtaLab’s coming work.

What do you think about Norway’s new open data license?

Guest - April 12, 2011 in Legal, OKI Projects, Open Data, Open Data Commons, Open Definition, Open Government Data, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data, Working Groups

The following guest post is from Sverre Andreas Lunde-Danbolt who works for the Department for ICT and renewal in the Norwegian Ministry of Government Administration, Reform and Church Affairs, and who is a member of the OKF’s Working Group on Open Government Data

The Norwegian Ministry of Government Administration and Reform have just sent a draft version of a new Norwegian Licence for Open Data (NLOD) on a formal hearing here in Norway (the hearing documents (in Norwegian), and a blog post about the licence and the hearing (also in Norwegian)). After the hearing, we intend to recommend all government agencies in Norway to use this licence when they publish data.

Government agencies publishing data are not always very good at specifying the terms under which the information can be reused. In Norway, at least, the introduction of a new sui generis licence for each new data set has become a predictable exercise. This is confusing to the reuser, adding an uneccessary layer of uncertainty, and, in some cases, even impeding legitimate reuse.

The Ministry has therefore decided to establish one common licence. This will reduce the number of open data licences in Norway (one licence to rule them all). The licence is a rather straightforward attribution licence under Norwegian law. Its main purpose is to enable reuse in Norway, but to make sure data under NLOD can be combined with other data as well as reused internationally, the licence states clearly that it is compatible with Open Government Licence (v1.0), Creative Commons Attribution Licence (generic v1.0, v2.0, v2.5 and unported v3.0), and Open Data Commons Attribution Licence (v 1.0).

The most important details in the licence are the following:

  • Personal data is not covered by the licence. This is the same as in Open Government Licence.
  • The reuser cannot distort the information or use the information to mislead. The NLOD definition of this seems to be less restrictive than the definition used in Open Government Licence.
  • NLOD specifies that the licencor can provide more information on the quality or delivery of data, but that this kind of information is outside the scope of the licence. NLOD only covers the rights to use the information.
  • Information licenced under NLOD will also be licenced under future versions of the licence, provided that the licensor has not explicitly licenced information under v1.0. This gives the Norwegian Government more sway over public sector information, and reduces the chances of data ending up as a kind of orphan works in the future.

What do you think?

Open Biblio Principles Announced

Rufus Pollock - January 24, 2011 in Bibliographic, News, Open Data, Open Definition, WG Open Bibliographic Data

The following post is by Mark McGillivrary, a member of the Open Knowledge Foundation Working Group on Open Bibliographic Data.

Last week the Open Biblio Principles were launched by the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Working Group on Open Bibliographic Data. The principles are the product of six months of development and discussion within the working group and the wider bibliographic community:

Producers of bibliographic data such as libraries, publishers, universities, scholars or social reference management communities have an important role in supporting the advance of humanity’s knowledge. For society to reap the full benefits from bibliographic endeavours, it is imperative that bibliographic data be made open — that is available for anyone to use and re-use freely for any purpose.

As this makes clear, the principles have a simple message: make bibliographic data open data as defined by the Specifically, there are 4 core principles:

  1. When publishing bibliographic data make an explicit and robust license statement.
  2. Use a recognized waiver or license that is appropriate for data.
  3. If you want your data to be effectively used and added to by others it should be open as defined by the Open Definition ( – in particular non-commercial and other restrictive clauses should not be used.
  4. Where possible, explicitly place bibliographic data in the Public Domain via PDDL or CC0.

You can read the full version of the principles at:

And, perhaps even more importantly, you can endorse them:

Please help us spread the word, and the links, to individuals and organisations across the academic, library and publisher community.

Lastly, we are also working on alternative language versions so if you are interested in doing a translation please leave a comment or email mark [dot] macgillivrary [at] okfn [dot] org.

What “open data” means – and what it doesn’t

Guest - December 10, 2010 in External, OKI Projects, Open Data, Open Definition, Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Standards, Open/Closed, WG Open Licensing

The following post is from Melanie Chernoff, Public Policy Manager for Red Hat. It was originally published on

Last week, an article in the Wall Street Journal talked about the Open Data Partnership, which “will allow consumers to edit the interests, demographics and other profile information collected about them. It also will allow people to choose to not be tracked at all.” The article goes on to discuss data mining and privacy issues, which are hot topics in today’s digital world, where we all wonder just how much of our personal data is out there and how it’s being used. These are valid concerns being talked about in other, more appropriate fora. I, however, would like to address my personal pet peeve about the dilution of the term open data.

The Open Knowledge Definition says it this way, “A piece of content or data is open if you are free to use, reuse, and redistribute it — subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share-alike.” Generally, this means that the data should be released in a format that is free of royalties and other IP restrictions. The problem is that an increasing number of people are using the term open data to mean publicly available data.

In the article, the CEO of the startup directing the Open Data Initiative says the goal is to “be more transparent and give consumers more control” of the data that is collected and shared. Providing a mechanism in which consumers can decide what information can be made available to advertisers is a laudable goal. However, this “open data” initiative focuses on what data is made available, when open data is really about how data is made available. This definitional shift is a problem, particularly for governments that are implementing data policies.

Simply put, all open data is publicly available. But not all publicly available data is open.

Open data does not mean that a government or other entity releases all of its data to the public. It would be unconscionable for the government to give out all of your private, personal data to anyone who asks for it. Rather, open data means that whatever data is released is done so in a specific way to allow the public to access it without having to pay fees or be unfairly restricted in its use.

In a previous article, I wrote about how the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) opened up their transit data to software developers. Within 2 months, six new trip planning applications for bus and train riders had been built at no cost to the MBTA. That’s the power of open data. It was data produced by the government which was released to the public in an open format (GTFS) for free, under a license that allowed for use and redistribution.

Why does this matter? If open data is misunderstood as releasing any and all data to the public, people will become opposed to the concept due to their concerns about privacy. What we, as policy advocates, want to encourage is that the data that governments do and should publish is done so in a way to ensure equal public access by all citizens. In other words, you shouldn’t have to buy a particular vendor’s product in order to be able to open, use, or repurpose the data. You, as a taxpayer, have already paid for the collection of the data. You shouldn’t have to pay an additional fee to open it.

We’ve all seen, from the recent news about Wikileaks, that there are real privacy and/or security concerns with putting all the government’s data out there, but that is a separate issue and shouldn’t be confused with open data. Whether data should be made publicly available is where privacy concerns come into play. Once it has been determined that government data should be made public, then it should be done so in an open format.

Am I being nitpicky about the term? Maybe. But we’ve seen from other tech policy battles that good definitions are crucial to framing the debate.

Richard Poynder interviews Jordan Hatcher

Guest - October 19, 2010 in Interviews, Legal, Open Data, Open Data Commons, Open Definition, Open Government Data, Open Knowledge Definition, Open Knowledge Foundation, Public Domain, WG Open Licensing

Open Acccess journalist extraordinaire Richard Poynder recently interviewed the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Jordan Hatcher about data licensing, the public domain, and lots more. An excerpt is reproduced below. The full version is available on Richard’s website.

Over the past twenty years or so we have seen a rising tide of alternative copyright licences emerge — for software, music and most types of content. These include the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) licence, the General Public Licence (GPL), and the range of licences devised by Creative Commons (CC). More recently a number of open licences and “dedications” have also been developed to assist people make data more freely available.

The various new licences have given rise to terms like “copyleft” and “libre” licensing, and to a growing social and political movement whose ultimate end-point remains to be established.

Why have these licences been developed? How do they differ from traditional copyright licences? And can we expect them to help or hinder reform of the traditional copyright system — which many now believe has got out of control? I discussed these and other questions in a recent email interview with Jordan Hatcher.

A UK-based Texas lawyer specialising in IT and intellectual property law, Jordan Hatcher is co-founder of, a board member of the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF), and blogs under the name opencontentlawyer.


Jordan Hatcher

Big question

RP: Can you begin by saying something about yourself and your experience in the IP/copyright field?

JH: I’m a Texas lawyer living in the UK and focusing on IP and IT law. I concentrate on practical solutions and legal issues centred on the intersection of law and technology. While I like the entire field of IP, international IP and copyright are my most favourite areas.

As to more formal qualifications, I have a BA in Radio/TV/Film, a JD in Law, and an LLM in Innovation, Technology and the Law. I’ve been on the team that helped bring Creative Commons licences to Scotland and have led, or been a team member on, a number of studies looking at open content licences and their use within universities and the cultural heritage sector.

I was formerly a researcher at the University of Edinburgh in IP/IT, and for the past 2.5 years have been providing IP strategy and IP due diligence services with a leading IP strategy consultancy in London.

I’m also the co-founder and principal legal drafter behind Open Data Commons, a project to provide legal tools for open data, and the Chair of the Advisory Council for the Open Definition. I sit on the board for the Open Knowledge Foundation.

More detail than you can ask for is available on my web site here, and on my LinkedIn page here.

RP: It might also help if you reminded us what role copyright is supposed to play in society, how that role has changed over time (assuming that you feel it has) and whether you think it plays the role that society assigned to it successfully today.

JH: Wow that’s a big question and one that has changed quite a bit since the origin of copyright. As with most law, I take a utilitarian / legal realist view that the law is there to encourage a set of behaviours.

Copyright law is often described as being created to encourage more production and dissemination of works, and like any law, its imperfect in its execution.

I think what’s most interesting about copyright history is the technology side (without trying to sound like a technological determinist!). As new and potentially disruptive technologies have come along and changed the balance — from the printing press all the way to digital technology — the way we have reacted has been fairly consistent: some try to hang on to the old model as others eagerly adopt the new model.

For those interested in learning more about copyright’s history, I highly recommend the work of Ronan Deazley, and suggest people look at the first sections in Patry on Copyright. They could also usefully read Patry’s Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars. Additionally, there are many historical materials on copyright available at the homepage for a specific research project on the topic here.

Three tranches

RP: In the past twenty years or so we have seen a number of alternative approaches to licensing content develop — most notably through the General Public Licence and the set of licences developed by the Creative Commons. Why do you think these licences have emerged, and what are the implications of their emergence in your view?

JH: I see free and open licence development as happening within three tranches, all related to a specific area of use.

1. FOSS for software. Alongside the GPL, there have been a number of licences developed since the birth of the movement (and continuing to today), all aimed at software. These licences work best for software and tend to fall over when applied to other areas.

2. Open licences and Public licences for content. These are aimed at content, such as video, images, music, and so on. Creative Commons is certainly the most popular, but definitely not the first. The birth of CC does however represent a watershed moment in thinking about open licensing for content.

I distinguish open licences from public licences here, mostly because Creative Commons is so popular. Open has so many meanings to people (as do “free”) that it is critical to define from a legal perspective what is meant when one says “open”. The Open Knowledge Definition does this, and states that “open” means users have the right to use, reuse, and redistribute the content with very few restrictions — only attribution and share-alike are allowed restrictions, and commercial use must specifically be allowed.

The Open Definition means that only two out of the main six CC licences are open content licences — CC-BY and CC-BY-SA. The other four involve the No Derivatives (ND) restriction (thus prohibiting reuse) or have Non Commercial (NC) restrictions. The other four are what I refer to as “public licences”; in other words they are licences provided for use by the general public.

Of course CC’s public domain tools, such as CC0, all meet the Open Definition as well because they have no restrictions on use, reuse, and redistribution.

I wrote about this in a bit more detail recently on my blog.

3. Open Data Licences. Databases are different from content and software — they are a little like both in what users want to do with them and how licensors want to protect them, but are different from software and content in both the legal rights that apply and how database creators want to use open data licences.

As a result, there’s a need for specific open data licences, which is why we founded Open Data Commons. Today we have three tools available. It’s a new area of open licensing and we’re all still trying to work out all the questions and implications.

Open data

RP: As you say, data needs to be treated differently from other types of content, and for this reason a number of specific licences have been developed — including the Public Domain Dedication Licence (PDDL), the Public Doman Dedication Certificate (PDDC) and Creative Commons Zero. Can you explain how these licences approach the issue of licensing data in an open way?

JH: The three you’ve mentioned are all aimed at placing work into the public domain. The public domain has a very specific meaning in a legal context: It means that there are no copyright or other IP rights over the work. This is the most open/free approach as the aim is to eliminate any restrictions from an IP perspective.

There are some rights that can be hard to eliminate, and so of course patents may still be an issue depending on the context, (but perhaps that’s conversation for another time).

In addition to these tools, we’ve created two additional specific tools for openly licensing databases — the ODbL and the ODC-Attribution licences.

RP: Can you say something about these tools, and what they bring to the party?

JH: All three are tools to help increase the public domain and make it more known and accessible.

There’s some really exciting stuff going on with the public domain right now, including with PD calculators — tools to automatically determine whether a work is in the public domain. The great thing about work in the public domain is that it is completely legally interoperable, as it eliminates copyright restrictions.

See the rest of the interview on Open and Shut

Open Licenses vs Public Licenses

Guest - October 15, 2010 in Legal, OKI Projects, Open Data, Open Data Commons, Open Definition, Open Knowledge Definition, Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Standards, Open/Closed

The following post is from Jordan Hatcher, a Director at the Open Knowledge Foundation and founder of the Open Data Commons project. It was originally posted on his blog.

Let’s face it, we often have a definition problem.

It’s critical to distinguish “open licenses” from “public licenses” when discussing IP licensing, especially online — mostly because Creative Commons is so popular and as a result has muddied the waters a bit.

Open has so many meanings to people (same of course as with “free software” or free cultural works) that it is critical to define from a legal perspective what is meant when one says “open”. The Open Knowledge Definition does this, and states that “open” means users have the right to use, reuse, and redistribute the content with very few restrictions — only attribution and share-alike restrictions are ok, and commercial use must specifically be allowed.

Which CC licenses are Open?

The Open Definition means that only two out of the main six CC licenses are open content licenses — CC-BY and CC-BY-SA. The other four involve the two non-open license elements the No Derivatives (ND) restriction (thus prohibiting reuse) or have Non Commercial (NC) restrictions. The other four are “public licenses”, in other words they are licenses provided for use by the general public.

Of course CC’s public domain tools, such as CC0, all meet the Open Definition as well because they have no restrictions on use, reuse, and redistribution.

The Open Data Commons legal tools, including the PDDL, the ODbL and the ODC Attribution License, all comply with the Open Definition, and so are all open public licenses.

I haven’t done a full survey, but the majority of open licenses (in terms of popularity) probably also fit the definition of public licenses, as open license authors tend to draft licenses for public consumption (and these tend to be the most used ones, naturally) . Many open licenses aren’t public licenses though — mainly those drafted for specific use by a specific licensor, such as a government or business. So the UK government’s new Open Government License isn’t a public license because it’s not meant to be used without alteration by other governments, but provided it meets the definition of the Open Definition, would be an Open License.

A simple Venn Diagram might be:

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