Hewlett Foundation extends CC BY policy to all grantees

Timothy Vollmer, September 23rd, 2014

Last week the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced that it is extending its open licensing policy to require that all content (such as reports, videos, white papers) resulting from project grant funds be licensed under the most recent Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license. From the Foundation’s blog post: “We’re making this change because we believe that this kind of broad, open, and free sharing of ideas benefits not just the Hewlett Foundation, but also our grantees, and most important, the people their work is intended to help.” The change is explained in more detail on the foundation’s website.

The foundation had a long-standing policy requiring that recipients of its Open Educational Resources grants license the outputs of those grants; this was instrumental in the creation and growth of the OER field, which continues to flourish and spread. Earlier this year, the license requirement was extended to all Education Program grants, and as restated, the policy will now be rolled out to all project-based grants under any foundation program. The policy is straightforward: it requires that content produced pursuant to a grant be made easily available to the public, on the grantee’s website or otherwise, under the CC BY 4.0 license — unless there is some good reason to use a different license.

“When we began thinking about extending the policy from OER grants to the foundation as a whole, we wanted to be sure we would not be creating unforeseen problems,” said Elizabeth Peters, the general counsel of the Hewlett Foundation. “So we first broadened it to cover education grants that were not for OER — and have been pleased to find that there were very few issues, and those few easily resolved. CC BY for all grant-funded works will now be the default, but we are willing to accommodate grantees who have a persuasive reason to take a different path. The ultimate goal of this policy is to make the content we fund more openly available to everyone. We’re only just beginning to implement this change, and will continue to monitor how it’s working, but so far we have found most grantees are ready and willing to apply the license that makes their works fully open for re-use of all kinds.”

In practice, the new policy means that nearly all of the extensive content produced with Hewlett project-based grant funds–not only works specifically commissioned as Open Educational Resources, but scholarly research, multimedia materials, videos, white papers, and more, created by grantees on subjects of critical importance–will be widely available for downstream re-use with only the condition that the creator is attributed. Text will be openly available for translation into foreign languages, and high-quality photographs and videos will be able to be re-used on platforms such as Wikipedia. Releasing grant funded content under permissive open licenses like CC BY means that these materials can be more easily shared and re-used by the public. And they can be combined with other resources that are also published under an open license: this collection grows larger every day as governments and other publicly-facing institutions adopt open policies. Promoting this type of sharing can benefit both the original creator and the foundation, as it enables novel uses in situations not intended by the original grant funding.

For a long time Creative Commons has been interested in promoting open licensing policies within philanthropic grantmaking. We received a grant from the Hewlett Foundation to survey the licensing policies of private foundations, and to work toward increasing the free availability of foundation-supported works. We wrote about the progress of the project in March, and we’ve been maintaining a list of foundation IP policies, and a model IP policy.

We urge other foundations and funding bodies to emulate the outstanding leadership demonstrated by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and commit to making open licensing an essential component of their grantmaking strategy.

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Creative Commons’ Foundation Engagement Project

Iris Brest, March 25th, 2014

Creative Commons received a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to survey the licensing policies of private foundations, and to work toward increasing the free availability of foundation-supported works. We are still pursuing this objective, but here’s where we are at the moment.

Tax-exempt private foundations are non-profit institutions exclusively devoted to benefitting the public, by grant-making or direct activities designed to achieve charitable, scientific, educational or similar purposes. Because there is a limit to the funds available to even the largest private foundations, most try to use their resources in a way that will have the greatest impact on the problems they hope to solve. Thus, they make grants to organizations that have shown themselves to be particularly effective in achieving their social goals.

One avenue to greater impact that has not been followed as often as it could be is requiring, or at least encouraging, grantees to make any grant-funded works freely available for broad uses by others, so that those works can not only be distributed for education and research, but readily improved and built upon to create new works in a potentially unlimited trajectory. Even assuring public access just to read the works is important. To take one example, foundations often fund research that is relevant to the welfare of the world’s poorest people – who often live in countries where their own researchers can’t afford to subscribe to the journals in which the work is published. Making articles on advances in medicine available through the internet can speed the transfer of knowledge to places where it is urgently needed – often by years. Licenses that give people the right to download, print and distribute those articles, and to translate or otherwise adapt them to local needs, multiply the already-great value of simple access.

Increasingly, government agencies and intergovernmental organizations are adopting open policies for copyrightable works and data they create or commission. For example, all grants under the U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Program require that copyrightable materials produced be licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license, so that those materials may be freely used by all, eliminating the need for costly replication of effort as community colleges put together courses to train workers for new jobs. Foundations have typically made the same requirement for works produced under grants to develop open educational resources, but only a few have extended the requirement to grants for other purposes.

We believe that in almost all cases, the copyrightable works produced with grant funding, as well as works concerning the problems the foundation seeks to address that are created by expert staff or commissioned by the foundation from external experts, will have more impact on those problems if they are published under an open license. In speaking with foundations, we have learned that most of them agree with this in principle – and it’s on their list; but limited time and unlimited demands mean that the issue usually doesn’t get to the top of the list.

There are, of course, grants a part of whose purpose is to provide the grantee with a source of income; in some (but not all) such cases, the income can only be realized by selling copies of the grant-funded work rather than by providing ancillary services. Obviously, it would not be rational to insist on the work’s being openly published in those few cases. We believe that it is appropriate and desirable for a foundation to adopt principles that cover the large majority of its grants, not to invite requests for exceptions, but to be prepared to relax its policy when it furthers the grant purpose to do so.

We have accordingly drafted a model intellectual property licensing policy for foundations, covering their own works as well as grant-funded works. The draft has been vetted by a dozen or more foundations, and has changed significantly as a result of their input. The current version includes a set of alternative provisions to fit some of the variations some of the foundations have told us they would prefer. It remains a draft in the sense that any foundation should feel free to edit it to suit its own needs, and we have accordingly dedicated the current version to the public domain so that not even attribution is required. Of course, we’d love to hear from any organization that adopts it in any form, and comments will always be welcome.

Check out the wiki page where we have several pieces of information, including:

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