Since OpenStreetMap has migrated from CC BY-SA to the newly created ODbL for its database, I have lived under the impression that the CC-family of licenses are - at least - not ideal for use with data. Here a little more background story, abridged from the post "Why CC BY-SA is unsuitable" [for the OSM database] on the OSM Foundation blog.


Lack of Copyright Protection in some jurisdictions (e.g. USA), difficulties in Combining CC BY-SA with Other Data. While the Share-Alike requires map tiles to stay open, modified/improved data does not have to be shared. Finally, there was Uncertainty and doubt over extent of derived work before the license change: with thousands of copyright holders (i.e. all contributors), the OSM foundation could not easily make an authoritative statement about what consituted a derived work (which would trigger the "SA" part in the CC license).

Therefore, OSM foundation did announce that "We are changing the license" to the Open Database License (ODbL) 1.0, with a lot of transitional work involved.

Fast-forward to CC 4.0

In the OSM discussion (in times of CC 2.0 licenses), I remember having read about the CC creators explicitely not recommending the use of CC licenses for databases. A quote-quote from the license change announcement:

"Creative Commons does not recommend using Creative Commons licenses for informational databases, such as educational or scientific databases."

This notion seems to have changed. The current Creative Commons FAQ says:

Can I apply a Creative Commons license to databases?

Yes. CC licenses can be used on databases. In the 4.0 license suite, applicable sui generis database rights are licensed under the same license conditions as copyright. Many governments and others use CC licenses for data and databases.

The question

With all that said, does this mean that today Creative Commons licenses can be recommended for use with databases/data sets? What recent statements/blog posts/opinions/judgements have you heard of?

1 Answer 1


Creative Commons sure seems to think so; they just launched a new initiative called open business models:
Open Business Models – Call For Participation
Open Business Models, Open Data, and the Public Interest
Open Data tags found on Creative Commons site:
Creative Commons wiki document on data
Open Data Commons Attribution License tags found on Creative Commons site: http://creativecommons.org/tag/open-data-commons-attribution-license
This is a hot button topic in many circles of openness; good luck navigating the trolling and toxicity.

Speaking of, Open Source Stack Exchange provides another forum for you to ask this, and you'll get detailed, informative feedback. You'll have to wade through the comments of user strife and inner turmoil, and you'll also most likely also get downvoted/closed. Asker beware...

UPDATE 2015-10-16
ODI Node in North Carolina spell this out very clearly in their slidedeck "Open Data in a Day - Licensing, Law and Best Practice", where they essentially say on slide 18:

"Only CC-BY and CC-BY-SA can be used for Open Data
The best Open Data license remains CC Zero, while all of the others are very hard to enforce."


  • 1
    Wow, the last paragraph really makes me want to answer license-related questions on opensource.SX.
    – ojdo
    Sep 17, 2015 at 9:19
  • 1
    to be fair thats been my experience. there are some smart people there and you can find some great information. i think they just have some work to do on their community. in essence, they can't even decide what to call their site, free software vs. open source software vs. libre software. its pretty ridiculous.
    – albert
    Sep 17, 2015 at 11:01
  • 1
    Just as a pointer: meta-questions like more site name brainstorming, part III looks pretty frightening. Reminds me of the GNU/Linux naming controversy or the whole open/free/libre software definition clashes...
    – ojdo
    Sep 17, 2015 at 12:09
  • yeah. its freaking ridiculous. and there's no resolution ever. just all out war. i was super stoked to see the site go live, started being active and quickly retreated after a few interactions. its not fun.
    – albert
    Sep 17, 2015 at 13:35

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