policy

Budapest Open Access Initiative policy recommendations for the next 10 years

Timothy Vollmer, September 18th, 2012

Ten years after the release of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, OA advocates last week released updated recommendations in support of open access around the world, touching on areas including policy, licensing, sustainability, and advocacy. Of particular interest are recommendations that urge funders to require open access when they make grants: “When possible, funder policies should require libre OA, preferably under a CC-BY license or equivalent.” When funding agencies institute open access policies for the grant funds they distribute, they increase the impact of the research produced. This is because the outputs can be widely reused under the CC-BY license, which allows for reuse for any purpose (even commercial) so long as attribution is given to the author.

The updated recommendation document includes a section on licensing and reuse (see the three listed below). The document “recommend[s] CC-BY or an equivalent license as the optimal license for the publication, distribution, use, and reuse of scholarly work.”

OA repositories typically depend on permissions from others, such as authors or publishers, and are rarely in a position to require open licenses. However, policy makers in a position to direct deposits into repositories should require open licenses, preferably CC-BY, when they can.

OA journals are always in a position to require open licenses, yet most of them do not yet take advantage of the opportunity. We recommend CC-BY for all OA journals.

In developing strategy and setting priorities, we recognize that gratis access is better than priced access, libre access is better than gratis access, and libre under CC-BY or the equivalent is better than libre under more restrictive open licenses. We should achieve what we can when we can. We should not delay achieving gratis in order to achieve libre, and we should not stop with gratis when we can achieve libre.

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Ongoing discussions: NonCommercial and NoDerivatives

Timothy Vollmer, August 29th, 2012

A few days ago the Students for Free Culture (SFC) published a provocative blog post called “Stop the inclusion of proprietary licenses in Creative Commons 4.0.” The article urged Creative Commons to deprecate (meaning “retire” or similar), or otherwise change the way Creative Commons offers licenses containing the NonCommercial and NoDerivatives terms, because they “do not actually contribute to a shared commons.”

The SFC blog post raises important questions about the opportunities and challenges presented by the NC and ND licenses. The NC and ND licenses currently make up four of the six licenses in the CC license suite:

These issues have surfaced frequently over the years, in varied forums and by a variety of stakeholders. CC studied the NC issue from 2008 to 2009, investigating how online populations understand noncommercial use in the context of the NC licenses. The previous year, CC acknowledged the differences between the NC and ND licenses on the one hand, and BY and BY-SA on the other, by announcing placement of the free cultural works seal on the BY and BY-SA deeds as part of an “effort to distinguish among the range of Creative Commons licenses”.

At the same time, CC celebrates successful adoption of the NC and ND licenses, in part because those licenses signal a desire to be more open than the alternative of “all rights reserved.” Moreover, those adopters may eventually migrate to more open licenses once exposed to the benefits that accompany sharing. But this duality opens CC to criticism (if not also confusion) about our identity and mission.

CC committed to addressing this issue most recently with the launch of the 4.0 license process following consultation with the CC affiliates at the 2011 Global Summit in Warsaw. We fully intend to engage in a manner that is inclusive of a wide range of voices and interests. In this way, CC will be best positioned to make informed, thoughtful decisions with the input of our community (defined in the broadest sense), our affiliates, and our adopters (both would-be and existing).

While the specific challenges to NC and ND are not tied to the 4.0 versioning process per se, they’ve been raised in the context of the 4.0 NonCommercial dialogue. The decision not to change the definition of NonCommercial itself in 4.0 now gives way to the broader policy discussion of the role that the NC (and ND) licenses serve, and CC’s stewardship of and communications around those licenses.

As license steward, we are accountable to our stakeholders and global community, and must be transparent about decisions and how we act (or not) on the proposals that have been put on the table. These proposals span a wide range and include more clearly differentiating the licenses aligned with the Definition of Free Cultural Works from those that are not, to providing more education to licensors about the consequences of license choice, to disassociating Creative Commons from the NC and ND licenses altogether, among others.

Here’s what you can expect from CC:

  • Please continue to use the CC-Community list (as opposed to the CC license development list) as the venue for discussions about the various options, proposals, and considerations for NC and ND.
  • CC will collect, analyze and synthesize ideas and proposals, identify possible policy changes, and communicate potential implications of each. CC will look to these various proposals with the recognition that any policy change cuts across the entire community and organization, including education, data and science, legal, technical, etc. CC will share this information publicly in an easy to understand fashion that includes the relevant historical and contextual framing.
  • CC will hold stakeholder consultations that include adopters, CC affiliates, funders, and the broader community. These might take the form of email discussions, community phone calls or IRC chats, etc.

Other suggestions for actions are most welcome.

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Creative Commons Licensing in the World of Philanthropy

Andrew Blanco, June 26th, 2012

Having been here at Creative Commons for a couple of weeks now, I’m excited to share what I’m working on this summer as a Google Policy Fellow.

A quick introduction: I’m currently a graduate student in Management Science & Engineering at Stanford University. Before moving to Northern California, I lived in the Boston area where I worked at the Learning Games Network (LGN), a nonprofit spin-off of the MIT Education Arcade. While helping to develop a foundation-funded Open Educational Resource (OER) project at LGN, I came to appreciate the possibilities that open licensing can offer innovators in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors.

The project I’m working on during my ten weeks here focuses on the use of Creative Commons licenses in the world of philanthropy. Our goal is to provide best practices that will help foundation leaders implement open licensing policies and ensure that the work they fund is available for others to build upon. This follows in the footsteps of last year’s Foundation Funding: Open Licenses, Greater Impact, published by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society as an updated version of its 2009 report, An Evaluation of Private Foundation Copyright Licensing Policies, Practices and Opportunities.

As the title of the Berkman Center’s update suggests, open licensing can be thought of as a force multiplier in the context of grant-making. Sharing the digital outputs of philanthropic investments under open licenses makes their reuse easier and increases their potential impact. If grantees produce documents, materials, or other content that could be applied in different settings or remixed in unanticipated ways that offer further social benefits, why not lower the barriers to these possibilities by automatically granting others permission (i.e., open licensing) to pursue these additional uses?

While a few foundations require or encourage their grantees to use open licenses in their work, this is not yet a standard practice. Some highlight their philosophies regarding open licensing, like the Shuttleworth Foundation and the Open Society Foundations, while others mandate specific licenses for selected programs or projects, like the Next Generation Learning Challenges initiative that’s funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Creative Commons encourages philanthropic funders to help lead the way for greater use of open licensing within the nonprofit sector. To learn what works and develop best practices, we’re reaching out to foundations that have already incorporated open licensing into their grant-making processes, analyzing existing policies and the documents used to communicate them, and talking with others in the field to better understand the challenges to broader adoption. Our final output will be sample copyright licensing policies for foundations that want to establish new expectations for sharing the intellectual works they fund, while also preserving flexibility for those instances where reserving more rights might still make sense.

If you’re a staff member at a grant-making foundation and would like to learn more about this project, please contact us at info@creativecommons.org.

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Act now to support public access to federally funded research

Timothy Vollmer, February 14th, 2012

Last week the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) was reintroduced with bipartisan support in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. According to SPARC, the bill would “require federal agencies to provide the public with online access to articles reporting on the results of the United States’ $60 billion in publicly funded research no later than six months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal.” If passed, the legislation would extend the current NIH Public Access Policy (with a shorter embargo) to other US government-funded research, including agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, NASA, the National Science Foundation, and others. FRPAA was first introduced in 2006.

Unlike the Research Works Act, FRPAA would ensure that the public has access to the important scientific and scholarly research that it pays for. Creative Commons recently wrote to the White House asking that taxpayer funded research be made available online to the public immediately, free-of-cost, and ideally under an open license that communicates broad downstream use rights, such as CC BY. While FRPAA–like the NIH Public Access Policy before it–does not require the application of open licenses to the scientific research outputs funded with federal tax dollars, it is a crucial step toward increasing public access to research.

SPARC has issued an action alert, and there are several specific actions you can take in support of FRPAA. On this 10th anniversary of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, please voice your support that the public needs and deserves access to the research it paid for and upon which its education depends.

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COMMUNIA’s response to the proposed amendments to PSI Directive

Timothy Vollmer, February 2nd, 2012

This post is an adaptation from the COMMUNIA International Association blog and is cross-posted at the Open Knowledge Foundation website. Creative Commons and the Open Knowledge Foundation are institutional members of COMMUNIA. The mission of COMMUNIA is to educate about, advocate for, offer expertise and research about the public domain in the digital age within society and with policymakers.

The European Commission Public Sector Information Directive, which describes the conditions under which European public sector information (PSI) should be made available for reuse by the public, has been in place since 2003. PSI ranges from digital maps to weather data to traffic statistics, and there’s a lot of potential value in making PSI available for reuse for commercial and non-commercial purposes – up to €140bn. The EC says that increasing the reuse of PSI can generate new businesses and jobs – and to this end is planning to update its nine-year-old Directive. The COMMUNIA International Association last week released a short policy document (PDF) in reaction to the to the European Commission’s (EC) proposals, which the OKF’s Daniel Dietrich presented at the LAPSI conference in Brussels to a positive and interested audience.

To give a bit of background: in December 2011 the EC published a proposal (PDF) to update the PSI Directive. The Open Knowledge Foundation already covered the basics of the Commission announcement. The COMMUNIA document draws attention to two areas where these proposals still need improvement: firstly regarding the conditions for re-use of public sector information that falls within the scope of the Directive; and secondly regarding public domain content that is held by libraries, museums and archives.

Conditions for re-use of public sector information

From the perspective of COMMUNIA the way the amended Directive addresses licensing of public sector content remains underdeveloped and as such has the potential to create diverging and potentially incompatible implementations among the Member states. The article of the amended Directive dealing with licensing mentions “standard licenses,” but does not sufficiently clarify what should be considered to be a standard license, and encourages the development of open government licenses. Instead of recommending the use and creation of more licenses, COMMUNIA suggests that the Commission should consider advocating the use of a single open license that can be applied across the entire European Union. Such licenses (stewarded by the Open Knowledge Foundation and Creative Commons) already exist and are widely used by a broad spectrum of data and content providers.

Public Domain Content held by libraries, museums and archives

COMMUNIA is supportive of the Commission’s suggested change to include cultural heritage institutions into the scope of the amended Directive. Access to and re-use of PSI has been one of the issues that has featured prominently in the work of COMMUNIA. For instance, the EC’s amendments to the Directive are aligned with COMMUNIA’s January 2011 policy recommendation #13, which states, “The PSI Directive needs to be broadened, by increasing its scope to include publicly funded memory organisations – such as museums or galleries – and strengthened by mandating that Public Sector Information will be made freely available for all to use and re-use without restriction.”


The South Prospect of the Cathedral of St. Pauls / gallica.bnf.fr/Bibliotheque nationale de France / Public Domain

Including such content under the purview of the Directive will improve citizens’ access to our shared knowledge and culture and should increase the amount of digitized cultural heritage that is available online. But, while the amended Directive makes it clear that documents held by cultural heritage institutions in which there are no third party intellectual property rights will be re-usable for commercial or noncommercial purposes, it does not address the largest category of works held by cultural heritage institutions — those that are not covered by intellectual property rights at all because those works are in the public domain. COMMUNIA thinks that explicitly including public domain content held by libraries, museums and archives in the re-use obligation of the amended PSI Directive will strengthen the Commission’s position with regard to access and re-use of public domain content.

The full COMMUNIA association reaction to the EC’s proposal to amend Directive 2003/98/EC on re-use of public sector information can be downloaded here (PDF).

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Urgent: more action needed to stop SOPA

Mike Linksvayer, December 14th, 2011

Update 12/16

The hearings are still going on; please keep calling, emailing, and otherwise spreading the word!


Tomorrow the House Judiciary Committee will debate and potentially vote on SOPA, the Internet Blacklist bill that would break the Internet.

Our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have compiled a list of 12 actions you can take now to stop SOPA.

Do them.


Soon you’ll find a huge banner at the top of every page on the CC site protesting SOPA. The Wikimedia community is considering a blackout to bring massive attention to the danger posed by SOPA. Many others are taking action. What are you doing?

For background on the bill, why it would be especially bad for the commons, and links for news, check out our previous post calling for action against SOPA and a detailed post from Wikimedia’s General Counsel.

Finally, remember that CC is crucial to keeping the Internet non-broken in the long term. The more free culture is, the less culture has an allergy to and deathwish for the Internet. We need your help too. Thanks!

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Urgent: Stop [U.S.] American censorship of the Internet

Mike Linksvayer, November 11th, 2011

November 16 the U.S. Congress will hold hearings on a bill that would unfairly, recklessly and capriciously enable and encourage broad censorship of the Internet in the name of suppressing distribution of works not authorized by copyright holders. As Public Knowledge aptly summarizes, the “Stop Online Piracy Act” would seriously “threaten the functioning, freedom, and economic potential of the Internet” by:

  • short-circuiting the legal system, giving rightsholders a fast-track to shutting down whole websites;
  • creating conflicts between Domain Name System (DNS) servers, making you more vulnerable to hackers, identity theft, and cyberattacks;
  • sanctioning government interference with the Internet, making it more censored globally.

SOPA threatens every site on Internet, but would especially harm the commons, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains, focusing on free software. The same applies to free and open projects beyond software, which often use CC licenses. While standard public licenses have lowered the costs and risks of legal sharing and collaboration, SOPA would drastically increase both the costs and risks of providing platforms for sharing and collaboration (think sites ranging from individual blogs to massive community projects such as Wikipedia, from open education repositories to Flickr and YouTube), and vaporize accessibility to huge swathes of free culture, whether because running a platform becomes too costly, or a single possibly infringing item causes an entire domain to be taken down.

The trend that one can plot from the DMCA (1998) to SOPA, and continued extensions and expansions of copyright and related restrictions around the world, also demonstrate the incredible importance of the commons for healthy information policy and a healthy Internet — almost all other “IP” policy developments have been negative for society at large. The DMCA was decried by advocates of free speech and the Internet, and has over past 13 years had many harmful effects. Now, in 2011, some think that the U.S. Congress ‘struck the right balance’ in 1998, while big content is dissatisfied, and with SOPA wants to ratchet the ‘balance’ (watch out, 2024!) much further to their short-term advantage.

Techdirt has excellent coverage of the gritty details of SOPA, its ill effects, and the many constituencies alarmed (such as librarians and sports fans).

Sign up at American Censorship Day to be alerted of actions you can take against SOPA. Demand Progress, EFF, and PK have forms you can use to write the U.S. Congress right now.

Please take action! If you aren’t already sharing works under a CC license and supporting our work, now is a good time. Bad legislation needs to be stopped now, but over the long term, we won’t stop getting new bad legislation until policymakers see broad support and amazing results from culture and other forms of knowledge that work with the Internet, rather than against it. Each work or project released under a CC license signals such support, and is an input for such results.

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UNESCO and COL release open education policy document for higher education

Timothy Vollmer, November 1st, 2011

Today UNESCO and the Commonwealth of Learning jointly released the policy document Guidelines for Open Educational Resources (OER) in Higher Education. The purpose of the guidelines is “to encourage decision makers in governments and institutions to invest in the systematic production, adaptation, and use of OER and to bring them in to the mainstream of higher education in order to improve the quality of curricula and teaching and to reduce costs.”

UNESCO and COL note, “Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning or research materials that are in the public domain and released with an open license (such as Creative Commons). They allow communities of practitioners and stakeholders to copy, adapt and share their resources legally and freely, in order to support high-quality and locally relevant teaching and learning.”

The guidelines indicate how the potential of OER can be harnessed to support quality teaching and learning by higher education stakeholders, including governments, higher education institutions, teaching staff, students, and quality assurance, accreditation, and academic recognition authorities.

The Guidelines for OER in Higher Education inform the process leading up to the 2012 World OER Congress. That event is being organized by UNESCO and the Commonwealth of Learning, with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The Congress will 1) work to promote the UNESCO/COL OER Policy Guidelines; 2) share the world’s best practices in OER policies, initiatives, and experts; and 3) release the 2012 Paris OER Declaration calling on Governments to support the development and use of OERs.

The UNESCO/COL policy document is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license.

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CC Talks With: Sir John Daniel of the Commonwealth of Learning: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, July 27th, 2011

Sir John Daniel has been working in open education from its earliest days. “Openness is in my genes,” he says. Sir John is President and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning, or COL. COL is an intergovernmental organization comprised of 54 member states. The overarching focus area for COL is “learning for development.” It aims to help its member nations—especially developing countries—use technology and develop new approaches to expand and approve learning at all levels. Sir John’s first interaction at COL happened over 20 years ago, when he chaired its planning committee. At that time, he was president of Canada’s Laurentian University. He went from there to lead the Open University in the UK, and then served as head of Education at UNESCO. Sir John’s colleague, Dr. Venkataraman Balaji, is Director of Technology and Knowledge Management, and led the efforts in crafting COL’s recent Open Educational Resources policy.

What were the primary motivations in developing an OER policy at COL? What hurdles (legal, social, cultural) did you have to overcome, both within the organization and among the member states?

We’re in the open business, so it made sense to communicate a formal open policy prominently on our website. It really wasn’t a problem, and there were few hurdles inside COL. We drafted the policy, it went through a few iterations within our staff, and then we adopted it. That said, we should be clear that we didn’t take this policy to the member states for review. We’re a small organization, and we do not have a general assembly of our membership. So, we didn’t have to wade through the politics of getting all the states to sign on. However, we didn’t develop the OER policy just pat ourselves on our back. We want to show the world that supporting open education is how we all should behave these days.

The work of intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) is very important, but to the outside observer it is sometimes not apparent what IGOs do. What does COL do to “encourage and support governments and institutions to establish supportive policy frameworks to introduce practices relating to OER”?

If I may be so bold, I think your question reflects an American bias. The United States and other large, powerful countries tend to operate bilaterally. Smaller countries prefer the facilitative, collaborative approach of working via intergovernmental organizations. UNESCO is the extreme example, where 193 countries operate democratically, and everyone’s voice is at least in principle equal. When I worked at UNESCO, I was surprised how seriously the member states took the recommendations that were developed. They trust that sort of process more than directives that come at them bilaterally.

In general, the IGO process aims to get countries to work together to do things they cannot do separately. One example is a virtual university for small states within the Commonwealth. Since two-thirds of the 54 member states are nations with populations of 2 million or less, they have fewer resources to spend on content creation. You can imagine when the dot com boom came along the small states were worried how they could come to terms with all the potential benefits (and address the challenges) of this rapidly changing digital, networked world. So their ministers of education looked at the challenge and said, “if we can’t crack it individually, why not crack it collectively?” COL helped them start a ‘virtual university’, which is not a new institution but a collaborative network where countries and institutions can work together to produce course materials as OER that they can all adapt and use. This virtual university has developed curriculum in various areas, such as a diploma in sustainable agriculture for small states. You can imagine that agricultural practices in a place like the atolls of the Maldives are very different than agriculture in the volcanic islands of Dominica. However, developing a vanilla version of the curriculum and then allowing each region to tailor the resources to the specifics of their own agricultural ecosystem has proved much more efficient than each state starting from scratch. A condition of participating in the virtual university is that anything you create must be released as OER.

COL has chosen the CC BY-SA license for its own materials. Can you describe how the organization decided upon this license for its resources?

Well, our policy simply says COL will release its own materials under the most feasible open license, which includes the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. We understand why MIT OCW adopted a noncommercial license for its materials—they were the first to do it and didn’t know what was going to happen. But now, we encourage people to not use noncommercial if they can avoid it, and we follow our own recommendation. It wasn’t until Dr. Balaji arrived that we were able to sort through the legal and technical challenges that COL, as an intergovernmental organization, faced in adopting an open license.

Many of the COL member states are located in the global south. How does an OER policy affect global south states differently than the global north?

I’m exaggerating quite a bit here, but we’ve observed that in the north people are more focused on producing OER and that in the south people are more focused on how they can use OER. Just a few months ago I was at the Open Courseware Conference in Boston. Perhaps three-fourths of the presentations there focused on producing OER, while only a small number were about re-purposing and reusing OER content. This has to change for the OER movement to take off.

In the south, there’s a cautious attitude of “there’s lots of stuff available, why not use it?” We’ve been encouraging the north to take a more universal approach and think multidirectionally. This is why we’re delighted that a school like the University of Michigan is using OER from Malawi and Ghana in its medical programs. Why should the University of Michigan create OERs about tropical diseases when there are folks that live in the tropics that can do it better? So, we encourage people to see OER production and use as a multi-directional flow.

Can you discuss the goals and outcomes of the Taking OER beyond the OER community project, organized by COL and UNESCO. What’s next?

This project has a long history, and really goes back all the way to the origin of the term Open Educational Resources. But more recently, in 2009 UNESCO hosted a world conference on higher education. That event didn’t ruffle feathers in the north so much, but influenced thinking in the south. It reiterated the importance of open distance learning, ICTs, and particularly emphasized the global sharing of OER to expand quality higher education. COL picked up the work with UNESCO. We realized that unless there is a much wider appreciation of what OER is, it’s not going anywhere. And as the name of the project implies, our goal was to advocate to those outside of the already-established open education community. We held six face-to-face workshops in Africa and Asia. These were mainly aimed at university presidents, quality assurance groups, and those interested in open distance learning.

Last December we held a policy forum at UNESCO in Paris to pull these threads together. We decided there that it would be helpful to develop a set of OER guidelines targeted at key stakeholder groups. These included governments, higher education institutions, teacher and student groups, quality assurance agencies, and qualification bodies. We’ve been iterating on these guidelines since then, and they are now being distributed for wide consultation. In October of this year there will be another policy forum where the OER guidelines for higher education will be put into final form. We hope to unveil these recommendations at the UNESCO general conference in November alongside an OER platform UNESCO will also be launching at that time.

Over the winter, we wish to conduct a rather extensive survey of governments around the world to find out where they are on policies related to OER, open access, open formats, and other related topics. Surveying governments is not an easy task, especially when they don’t always understand the questions you are asking. But, if all goes well, those survey results will be pulled together, to the end of working toward an update to the Cape Town Open Education Declaration. There’s a desire for COL and UNESCO to mark the 10th anniversary of the launch of the term “Open Educational Resources” with a conference in June 2012 at which countries can sign an updated declaration.

What do you predict will be the impact of the COL OER policy, and what would you like to see come out of this? What can you recommend to other IGOs that are beginning to think about developing an open education policy?

My advice is to just do it and don’t get too fussed about the license at the beginning. We hope that our small organization, which seems to have an influence larger than its size, will be the grain of sand in the oyster for other IGOs. UNESCO is working to get on the right page; given their name it would seem peculiar if they are not more in the ‘open’ business. But I understand the problem with large organizations. When you look at UNESCO, you’ve got general assemblies with lots of people that don’t like things unless they’re invented there. For example, everyone in the world wants for there to be standardization in electrical sockets, as long as the standard that is adopted is the one they use. Those organizations interested in adopting an open policy should start small, and work their way through the problems as they go. If you try to make your entire back catalog available, you’ll be lost. Those big intergovernmental organizations should say, “from now on, we’re going to be as open as we can be.” An important thing is to adopt the philosophy of openness.

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The Open Society Foundations encourage grantees to use CC licenses

Jane Park, June 30th, 2011

The Open Society Foundations (OSF) have adopted a new copyright policy that encourages its grantees to release their outputs under CC licenses. The OSF have long been releasing their own work products under a CC BY-NC-ND license, but now they have introduced a new clause to encourage OSF grantees to do the same:

“We believe that OSF’s mission is enhanced when our grantees’ Work Product is also made widely available to the public, with appropriate protection of legitimate interests. To that end, OSF is introducing a new clause into its grant agreements, whereby our grantees must advise OSF whether or not they will broadly license all Work Product created with OSF funds using a Creative Commons license, or otherwise.”

The Public Health Program, Information Program and Media Program are piloting this new policy with their grantees this year. For more information, read the OSF copyright policy.

For more information about funder policies and Creative Commons licenses, see our wiki.

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