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Homepage / Choosing a licence for your data

Choosing a licence for your data


Display of car licence plates

When you deposit data on a repository, you will need to assign the right licence to it. This determines what others can and can’t do with your data, so it’s important that it is appropriate for what you’re releasing and is in line with any licence requirements of your funder and/or publisher. However, licences can often seem an unfriendly sea of acronyms: CC-BY, GPL, CC-NC-ND… WTH! How are you meant to pick the best acronym?

The most common data and software licences

In a nutshell, the ideal dataset licence is CC-BY. This is the default licence on CORD and is Cranfield University’s recommendation, in line with general open access advice. The ‘CC’ means it is a Creative Commons licence, and the ‘BY’ means that reuse requires attribution – ie anyone can use, modify, and build on your data, for any purpose including commercial, but they must give you credit. CC licences are very flexible, as you can add any combination of BY, NC (non-commercial use only), and ND (no derivative works allowed); however, unless unavoidable, NC and ND should not be used for research data as they reduce its value. You can download the full licences from the Creative Commons licences webpage.

If you created software rather than data in your research project, you should similarly share it with a specified licence. It is best practice again to use an open licence, and an easy way to do this is to choose a licence approved by the OSI (Open Source Initiative). Using a popular licence is ideal, such as the GNU General Public Licence (GPL), as it is well-known and documented, and the GPL licence is an existing option in CORD.

Additional options and information

However, just as oranges are not the only fruit, CC and GPL are not the only licences. If you have any special requirements (generally due to contracts with research partners), the Research Data Manager and Contracts will discuss options further with you. We can add licence choices on CORD (such as a non-commercial CC licence, or the Lesser GPL software licence), or if necessary we can write a bespoke licence to specify our exact terms, to ensure that our outputs are used legally and responsibly according to all partners’ needs.

Some people do worry that others could still copy their data and claim the work as their own: requesting attribution does not guarantee it. Unfortunately, this is a risk, in the same way that others can plagiarise publications. All we can do is follow correct and sound procedures, by publishing with a clearly displayed licence and using an auditable system such as CORD for data sharing, to ensure a reliably recorded original date of publication and author.

Finally, don’t forget that a licence can only be applied by the rights holder, so if you are collaborating on a research project, all parties must agree to the choice of licence. To learn more about licences, take a look at Jisc’s Licensing Open Data – A Practical Guide (pdf) or get in touch at


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Written By: Georgina Parsons

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