Over the last few months, Creative Commons has been working on the next version of its license suite, version 4.0. The goals of version 4.0 are wide-ranging, but the overall objective is clear: update the licenses so they are considerably more robust, yet easy to understand and use, for both existing communities and new types of users.

A key community that version 4.0 aims to serve better are public sector agencies releasing data. Public sector information can be of great value, but the public needs to know what they can do with it. At the same time, public sector agencies need to be reassured that they can offer data in a way that gives them credit, maintains their reputation, and ensures some level of data integrity. Version 4.0 offers several updates in support of both open data publishers and users. A few of these are discussed below.

##Sui generis database rights

One area of particular interest to European data publishers and users will be the shift in how CC licenses handle sui generis database rights. These rights are similar to copyright, but instead of granting particular exclusive rights to authors for creating an original work, database rights reward the author for the “sweat of the brow” in compiling a database. In 3.0, CC licenses do not require compliance with the license conditions where the use of a CC licensed database triggers only sui generis database rights but not copyright. At the same time, CC 3.0 does not grant permission to engage in activities protected by the database right. In 4.0, we propose to license sui generis database rights on par with copyright. Since sui generis database rights are similar to copyright (in 4.0 draft 2 it is called a “copyright-like” right), this will align with expectations of users.

Here’s an example. Let’s use as a baseline a CC BY licensed database of public transport data published by the city of Berlin.

In 3.0 (International), a user extracts some public transport data in the database in a way that doesn’t implicate copyright. For example, they might extract the names of underground stations and train times and plot them on a map. They don’t have to attribute the creator of the database required by the CC license because such an extraction of factual data would not implicate copyright. However, the user might still be liable for infringing the sui generis database rights under German law (enacted in-line with the EU database directive). And CC 3.0 doesn’t license those rights. The user has to figure it out for herself.

In 4.0, the goal is to make it so that even if the user extracts data from the CC BY licensed public transport database in a way that doesn’t implicate copyright (but does implicate the sui generis database right), the CC license grants those permissions (and imposes restrictions) in the same way as would be required under normal CC licensing circumstances. So, for example, the user extracts the names of underground stations and train times to plot them on a map. Even though this action still doesn’t implicate copyright, it does trigger sui generis database rights. Under CC BY 4.0, the database rights are granted, and the user must provide attribution to the creator of the database. Of course, if this change is adopted in 4.0, the licensing of sui generis database rights will only be in effect in jurisdictions that recognize these rights. So, for those jurisdictions where sui generis database rights do not exist, nothing would change.

##Strengthen reputation and integrity

Another change queued up for 4.0 is the strengthening of particular provisions so that the CC licenses can be more easily used by institutions such as public sector bodies releasing open data. For example, 4.0 communicates more prominently that licensees may not imply or assert that their use of the licensed work is connected to or endorsed by the licensor. In addition to this “no endorsement” clause, 4.0 makes it possible for public sector bodies to add additional notices, warranties, or disclaimers of liability. The 4.0 draft also makes it clear – without making it a specific condition of the license itself – that users of licensed works are responsible for complying with laws outside of copyright that may apply to the use of the work, for instance data protection laws and laws guarding against fraud or misrepresentation. These mechanisms are important for official government bodies and data publishers: such institutions are sometimes apprehensive about releasing data sets if they think that downstream users will remix the data in ways that appear to show that the institution has sponsored or endorsed the use.

##Updated attribution

CC 4.0 also attempts to clarify and simplify the attribution requirements. Licensees must still identify the author, the URL to where the work can be accessed, the URL to the CC license, and retain notices of disclaimers. Draft 4.0 streamlines the attribution process in a few ways — for example, it removes the requirement to include the title of the work. However, in version 4.0 licensees can satisfy these requirements in any reasonable manner based on the medium, means, and context in which the work is used. Flexibility is important considering the wide range of potential uses for CC licensed content, especially data. One way that this might play out is for a licensee to provide alongside the work a simple URL to a web page that contains the information required to meet the attribution terms. You can imagine how that would be useful to help address problems of attribution stacking — users of databases would not have to list every single contributor alongside their adaptation. Instead, they could point to a separate web page listing the contributors, which makes more sense in certain applications. With these updated attribution methods, it helps licensees to give credit to the authors in the manner they wish to be attributed.

All these issues (and more) continue to be discussed in consultation with the Creative Commons community. If all goes well, CC 4.0 will be published before the new year. We welcome feedback on the license-discuss email list.

Image: Construction Cranes by Evo, CC-BY 2.0

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