There are quite some datasets out there that simply doesn't contain an explicit license (e.g. CC-BY). At best a one-line statement is given that the data is "open data".

Can I simply state that when the data is available without an explicit license it is open for everybody?

  • 1
    I suppose that in practice, it depends what you're going to use the data for.
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 9:52
  • Gerrit, what if the purpose is modify and reshare? Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 10:29
  • What jurisdiction are you concerned about? Somewhere in the the U.S.?
    – Dogweather
    Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 6:36
  • @Dogweather does a jurisdiction matter? Is there an example of someone using open data legally in country a and illegal in country b?
    – Andra
    Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 19:50
  • 1
    @Andra, jurisdiction is everything. The laws are different everywhere.
    – Dogweather
    Commented Oct 15, 2013 at 1:09

2 Answers 2


The content of a database is generally covered under copyright law, so broadly speaking… no. You cannot assume that copying and re-use is implicitly allowed by default.

Almost all major countries follow the Berne Convention. In the US (for example), almost everything published after April 1989 is considered "copyrighted" by default and protected whether it has a copyright notice or not. You should assume that any works that are not explicitly licensed for reuse may not be copied unless you know otherwise.

"Knowing otherwise" is where it gets tricky. There is a lot of data that simply is not copyrightable. But you have to understand copyright law and the laws governing reuse if you are going to act without explicit license. There are Fair Use provisions which allow a certain amount of re-use of original works. Copyright law doesn't generally protect mere listings of things (like ingredients, formulas, telephone listings, etc)… but copyright protection may extend to substantial literary expression within those listings. Some countries recognize separate property rights for databases which are somewhat distinct from copyright. Also, only original works of authorship are protected by copyright. Compilations of others' work may not.

If you don't see an explicit license, you should assume copyright by default — and then proceed cautiously to determine whether the work itself is actually copyrightable or if your application is covered under Fair Use.

  • Since caching is technically a form of copying we aren't even allowed to read a website, blog or online dataset if no license allowing reuse is set, correct?
    – Andra
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 14:02
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    @Andra In the US, the DMCA makes allowances for certain types of ephemeral copying like caching, time delayed use, backups, etc. So feel free to read those blogs in safety. Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 14:13
  • "The content of a database is generally covered under copyright law, so broadly speaking… no. You cannot assume that copying and re-use is implicitly allowed by default." I disagree; this is an overbroad statement. Facts are not copyrightable. Some databases which have the minimum required amount of creative expression will qualify for copyright protection as a compilation. But even then, the underlying information it contains may not be subject to copyright.
    – Dogweather
    Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 6:43
  • @Dogweather Please read the entire post. That is exactly what I said. And if there is no licensing notice, no, you absolutely cannot ASSUME you are free to use it. Commented Oct 14, 2013 at 0:08

It depends. In the US, facts are not eligible for copyright, but other countries do have 'database rights'.

  • 3
    Facts are not eligible, but a collection of facts might be. See opendata.stackexchange.com/q/574/263 . (and you're right about the other countries ... it gets messy w/ crown copyright, database rights, etc.)
    – Joe
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 12:10

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