CC Releases New Data FAQs

We have done a lot of thinking about data in the past year. As a result, we have recently published a set of detailed FAQs designed to help explain how CC licenses work with data and databases.

These FAQs are intended to:

    (1) alert CC licensors that some uses of their data and databases may not trigger the license conditions,

    (2) reiterate to licensees that CC licenses do not restrict them from doing anything they are otherwise permitted to do under the law, and

    (3) clear up confusion about how the version 3.0 CC licenses treat sui generis database rights.

To develop FAQs to meet these goals, we focused on the following considerations:

  • We cannot answer the question of whether and to what extent data and databases are subject to copyright as a general matter. Instead, we can arm licensors and licensees with the questions to ask to make their own determination.
  • Complex legal questions about copyright law are not unique to data and databases. (Copyright exceptions and limitations raise similar quandaries, as does the question of what constitutes an adaptation, etc.) We should keep this in mind before we over-complicate and over-explain the nuances of CC licenses as they relate to data. On the other hand, it is important to acknowledge there are significant limitations of copyright law as it applies to purely factual data and databases, so CC licensors are not misled about what they get by applying a CC license to their works.
  • We need to make clear that, unless the licensor chooses to delineate, CC licenses don’t distinguish between data and databases. All copyrightable content within the scope of the license is treated the same; the only difference is how the law operates with respect to different types of content. Nonetheless, if we over-emphasize this point we risk misleading the public about the practical application of CC licenses to data and databases.
  • CC’s interpretation of how its licenses apply to data and databases raises intricate policy decisions for CC. Specifically, CC has to navigate the inherent tension between, on the one hand, arguing against the current international regime of overly restrictive copyright control and, on the other, advocating an interpretation of copyright law that maximizes proprietary control over factual data. CC has made policy decisions about data in the past after extensive deliberation with our community. Now, as we prepare for version 4.0, we ask our community to help us re-examine prior decisions in light of policy developments over the past five years. Please contribute to the discussions about licensing database rights in 4.0, as well as other related issues.

For those of you who have watched or participated in CC’s work in the data arena over the years, these FAQs update and now fully replace the original data FAQs published by Science Commons. While the law has not changed materially since those original FAQs were first published, Creative Commons (which now fully integrates Science Commons) has worked to clarify how its 3.0 licenses work with databases in practice, rather than focusing on the normative question of whether and how users should apply (or not apply) our licenses in that regard, which was clearly the focus of the earlier FAQs.

We hope this new resource will be useful to those of you grappling with data licensing and helps to clarify how our licenses operate in practice. We welcome your feedback.

4 thoughts on “CC Releases New Data FAQs”

  1. Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for posting this blog and doing this work on the FAQ’s. Its a topic of great interest to many, including the AusGOAL community in Australia. I will post links to these FAQ’s across the AusGOAL channels.



  2. Hi Sarah,

    indeed, help and direction in this area is urgently sought by many!

    CC licenses (all versions) have had two extremely important features:
    – The licenses have a “frontend”-version, readable/understandable for the rest of us
    – The licenses seem to apply in “all countries of the world” without modification to its meaning

    I would think after all I have learned (as a non-lawyer) about that subject that these two features will not be so “easily” achieved for data.

    But to your practical question: At least in science / science funding two important question(s) to be addressed by a FAQ would be:

    How can I express a license (including copyright/Urheberrecht/whatever and database rights…) that

    – waives my (my employers…) rights to the extent neccessary for others to reuse data efficiently (possibly citing me /because of good scientific practise/ )
    – however makes it impossible/extremely hard for others to get the data, wrap it in another cover and monopolize it (as publishers do with text in articles)



  3. Thanks to you both for your comments!

    Hans, to answer your question, this is something we are trying to figure out for Version 4.0 of the CC license suite. We are planning to move toward licensing database rights on the same terms and conditions as copyright, which should help make headway toward the goal you articulated. There may be other changes we can make to address these issues as well. Please do follow the 4.0 discussion on our wiki (, and let us know if you have specific ideas or proposals of how to address the important issue of data.


  4. On the other hand, it is important to acknowledge there are significant limitations of copyright law as it applies to purely factual data and databases, so CC licensors are not misled about what they get by applying a CC license to their works.

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