New Report: Avoiding data use silos – How governments can simplify the open licensing landscape

We are pleased to announce our latest report  ‘Avoiding data use silos – How governments can simplify the open licensing landscape’. This report outlines the problems of an ever-growing complexity of open licences, the risk of data use silos, and explains why reusable standard licences, or putting the data in the public domain are the best options for governments. While the report has a focus on government, many of the recommendations can also apply to public sector bodies as well as publishers of works more broadly.

Licence proliferation continues to be a major challenge for open data. When licensors decide to create custom licences instead of using standard open licences, it creates a number of problems. Users of open data may find it difficult and cumbersome to understand all legal arrangements. More importantly though, legal uncertainties and compatibility issues with many different licenses can have chilling effects on the reuse of data.

This can create ‘data use silos’, a situation where users are legally allowed to only combine some data with one another, as most data would be legally impossible to use under the same terms. The ever-growing complexity of our licensing landscape may support such silos – counteracting efforts like the European Digital Single Market strategy, preventing the free flow of (public sector) information and impeding the growth of data economies. Standardised licences can smoothen this process by clearly stating usage rights.

Our latest report  ‘Avoiding data use silos – How governments can simplify the open licensing landscape’ explains why reusable standard licences, or putting the data in the public domain are the best options for governments. 

A lack of centralised coordination within governments is a key driver of licence proliferation. Different phases along the licensing process influence government choices what open licences to apply – including clearance of copyright, policy development, and the development and application of individual licences.

Our report outlines how governments can harmonise the decision-making around open licences and ensure their compatibility. We hope it will provide the ground for a renewed discussion around what good open licensing means – and inspire follow-up research on specific blockages of open licensing.

Governments who wish to make their public sector information as reusable as possible should consider following best practices and recommendations:

  1. Publish clear notices that concisely inform users about their rights to reuse, combine and distribute information, in case data is exempt from copyright or similar rights.
  2. Align licence policies via inter-ministerial committees and collaborations with representative bodies for lower administrative levels. Consider appointing an agency overseeing and reviewing licensing decisions.
  3. Precisely define reusable standard licences in your policy tools. Clearly define a small number of highly compatible legal solutions. We recommend putting data into the public domain using Creative Commons Zero, or applying a standard open license like Creative Commons Attribution 4.0.
  4. If you still opt to use custom licences, carefully verify if provisions cause incompatibilities with other licences. Add compatibility statements explicitly naming the licences and licence versions compatible with a custom licence, and keep the licence text short, simple, and reader-friendly.

Custom licences used across a sample of 20 governments