[odc-discuss] An attribution-only version of the open database license

Jonathan Rochkind rochkind at jhu.edu
Wed Nov 18 17:03:48 UTC 2009

As people have mentioned, NC is tricky even in the textual (CC) 
environment. (And is generally not allowed in the source code 
environment; NC-style licenses are generally not considered "open source".)

But I think it's _especially_ tricky for data.  Because desired use of 
data is especially likely to involve combining data from one source with 
data from another source. (Or maybe that's just my use cases, and not 
neccesarily representative of 'in general'?)  When you've got a bunch of 
data licensed differently, it can be difficult to figure out what the 
license terms on the aggregate are, what you're actually allowed to do 
with it; and it can be a technical challenge to make sure you are able 
to figure out what the license terms on each 'piece' of the data in the 
aggregate are. (Even what the granularity of a 'piece' is can be a pain).

Now, these are recognized problems in non-data environments too: license 
differences making aggregate use difficult.

It's a recognized problem with "open source" licenses for code, making 
it difficult or illegal to combine code with different "open source" 
licenses. (Some comments to this effect can be found in the Open Source 
Initiative's Report of the License Proliferation Committee. 

It's also a recognized problem with textual materials with CC-type 
licenses, when it comes to aggregation, which led to a recommendation 
from SPARC that "open access journals" be licensed with CC-BY to promote 
aggregation and re-use without confusion. (See 

But if I'm right that uses of "open data" are _especially_ likely to 
involve aggregation, then that would mean it will be even _more_  of a 
problem for data compared to source code and text. 

So I tend to agree with Frederik that it would be a mistake to 
encourage/facilitate an NC-style license for data.  Not just because of 
"principles", but because it will lead to concrete practical 
difficulties; data that can not be easily aggregated is not really going 
to get the benefits of "open data" at all, and data licensed with an 
NC-style license is going to be very tricky to aggregate legally.

I'm really a fan of the "no rights reserved" science data commons or 
ODDB licenses, precisely because of these issues. But even if this isn't 
the consensus and 'some rights reserved' is supported, NC is a 
particularly tricky one.

NC-style licenses are not allowed by any of the standard definitions of 
"open source" when it comes to source-code. (GNU, or Open Source 
Initiative, or anything else I've seen).  While they're provided for in 
the CC-suite of textual licenses, they are somewhat controversial (cf 
the SPARC recommendation; cf the recent CC research on exactly what the 
heck 'non commercial' means anyway.)   I think there's probably a lesson 
to be taken from "open" initiatives in these more established domains 
(source code and text), and that the environment of data actually makes 
the challenges of NC even _more_ relevant.


Frederik Ramm wrote:
> Hi,
> SteveC wrote:
>> With a NC half way house everyone wins and I get to dip my toe in open licensing.
> No, with NC people get the credit for having something "open" while not 
> really giving anything to anyone. How often have I cursed some half ass 
> "free for noncommercial use" license on government data because it 
> cannot be combined with anything that is properly open like OSM!
> The wording "dip my toe in open licensing" sounds as if a NC license 
> could be a first careful step one the ladder to proper interoperability 
> and openness, but it is grossly misleading; why would anyone shed the NC 
> if it is already enough to get full "openness" credit?
>> Being an economist I wouldn't have thought you'd want to limit the license market to two extreme positions :-)
> Gladly this isn't a business. You are allowed to have ideals and stick 
> to them. It is not a "how many businesses can we plaster our license on 
> by watering it down to basically nothing" competition.
> Bye
> Frederik
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