Licensing Open Data: A Practical Guide


Key Questions: How can organizations obtain open data licenses? Which legal issues might arise in the context of licensing open data?

This guide provides a practical overview of the various legal issues which might arise in the context of licensing open data, as well as the different types of licenses which are available.

This Guide has been developed for organizations who are considering the issues associated with licensing open data and/or want to understand the terms under which they can use data which has been licensed by third parties.


  • Section One: Legal Constraints to Achieving Open Data
    • Intellectual Property Rights
    • Contract Law
    • Data Protection
    • Freedom of Information
    • Breach of Confidence
  • Section Two: Open Data Licences
    • Creative Commons Licences
    • CC Zero
    • Open Data Commons
    • The Open Government Licence
  • Section Three: How Open are So-Called "Open" Licences?
  • Section Four: When Might Open Licences NOT be Appropriate to Use?
  • Section Five: What to Find Out More?
Link to Tool: 

Summary of Information Provided in the Tool:

Legal Constraints 

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

IPR is the family name for a range of legal protections for things created as a result of human innovation, skill, creativity, and endeavor. IPR includes copyright, moral rights, database right and other rights

Contract law

Contracts are the means by which permissions can be granted to use data and/or datasets supplied by third parties. Recipients of data from third parties must be aware of and read

the detail of any contract they intend to enter into to ensure that they are in a position to negotiate terms favorable to them, and to ensure they can comply with any agreed terms.

Data Protection

The main piece of legislation that relates to Data Protection is the Data Protection Act 1998; this applies to personal data, i.e., data held or processed that is about a living individual (the so-called data subject) anywhere in the world.

Freedom of Information (FoI)

The Freedom of Information Acts in Scotland and England & Wales place obligations on public sector organizations to make copies of information they collect available to any member of the general public upon request, so long as it is not subject to an exemption.

Breach of Confidence

This occurs when information, which is confidential, is released to third parties by someone on whom there is an obligation to keep the information confidential.

Open Data Licences

Considerations around 'open licenses' include:

  • the creation of data silos
  • terms and conditions surrounding funding
  • difficulties associated with mixing of open data and less open data.

Circumstances when open license may not be appropriate include inclusion of information that is:

  • inappropriate
  • information including other IPRs
  • restricted information
  • information containing third-party content
  • uninformed consent
  • information not conforming to organization policies, and potential business models 
  • information endorsing third-party policies


Contact Person/Organization: 

Jisc, the Discovery Programme

Type of Tool:

Publication Date: 

Open Data - explained in a nutshell