What usage is allowed for an "open data" database released with a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND (Attribution NonCommercial NoDerivatives) license?

An example of this is the Placenames Database of Ireland. They say "external parties are welcome to reuse these data to build their own applications or to integrate placename data in existing applications."

Yet the "No Derivatives" clause says "If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you may not distribute the modified material.".

Creative Commons also say "CC does not recommend use of its NonCommercial (NC) or NoDerivatives (ND) licenses on databases intended for scholarly or scientific use.". That link does go into detail about EU sui generis database rights, and how the usage can vary between version 3.0 and version 4.0 licenses. It's difficult to understand exactly how it applies in this case, but it looks like if there is any way to use the data it would be an unintended loophole.

For a usage example, say I plot some of the places on a map (using the geometry data, and attach information to the places (such as the number of hedgehogs seen there last year). Sounds like I'm building on it (violates ND), and if this is on a personal blog that also has a few ads, it becomes commercial. Or if I'm at a university and plot similar data for the whole country, and publish it as a scientific paper that is charged for (by the publisher), that's commercial use (as well as still building on the database, and distributing it).

I actually can't think of a way to build an application using the data (as they say is possible) that conforms to the license.

The obvious "solution" is to just ask for permission to use it in a particular way.

Which leads to the general question: is there any point to licensing a database as CC-BY-NC-ND? In other words, is it actually granting any useful rights at all, or is it essentially the same as normal copyright? Is there a case where the data could be used legally in a third party application?

  • 1
    The scientific paper example might not violate NC if it's published in an open-access journal or by a non-commercial publisher (but it gets fuzzy ... such as if a society embargos for the first 6 months, but still sells access via membership ... I'm not sure if you can just use the not-for-profit status of the society)
    – Joe
    Mar 5, 2014 at 19:06
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    I've also been told by some people involved with CC (I think it was Micah Altman) that CCv4 specifically dealt with some of the issues around data re-use. Take a look at their 'What's new in 4.0' under the heading 'Rights outside the scope of copyright', 'Clarity about adaptations', and 'Common-sense attribution'. These changes will likely mean there are two valid answers to this question (v4 and pre-v4)
    – Joe
    Mar 5, 2014 at 19:36

2 Answers 2


I don't agree with your conclusion completely in one respect: I think there is a scenario where you can use CC BY-NC-ND (version 3 or 4) data and still stick to the license restrictions if you:

  1. Use it for a non-profit/ non-commercial use case such as a web offering by a public body or an NGO
  2. You do not change any of the triples in this data set
  3. You do not extend the data set by triples which use their ontology (classes, properties)

I think the third restriction might be a little bit too cautious but I just want to make sure there is really no potential infringement to the license.

If this is assured, I think there is no problem in importing this data together with your data in a database or a triple store as this is not a derivation of the external data set but merely a physical representation of the data.

  • You're right, the license does permit a non-commercial mirror (exact copy) of the database, which is something that normal copyright would not allow, good point. And that includes a copy in another format (such as converting triples to something else). But it doesn't permit the usages they mention: "external parties are welcome to reuse these data to build their own applications or to integrate placename data in existing applications." (building upon or integrating the data creates a derivative).
    – Rob Hoare
    Mar 5, 2014 at 9:07
  • I don't think so: "... to build their own applications" where do you read something about the data? "build" relates to the application in which this data is used with but you need to differentiate between the data and the application.
    – vanthome
    Mar 5, 2014 at 12:45
  • Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia on CC licenses: The last two clauses [non-commercial, non-derivative] are not free content licenses, according to definitions such as DFSG or the Free Software Foundation's standards, and cannot be used in contexts that require these freedoms, such as Wikipedia. Mar 5, 2014 at 18:05

I would also like a definitive answer to this question. I think that the crux of the matter lies in the definition of a "work", and "distribution".

You could, I think, distribute an application that accesses the original data, and allows the user to transform, mix, or build upon the data as they desire, to create their own derivative works for personal use. They could not, of course, distribute this derivative work, but your application could allow the user to share their particular configurations or additional materials in their derivative work, in sucha a way that other users could then create an identical derivative work for their own personal use.

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