Why use licenses?

Assigning licenses to your data is vital if you want other researchers to know if and under which circumstances they can use your data. With good reasons, Ball (2014), after providing a review of the legal status of research data, states in the DCC‘s (Digital Curation Centre) comprehensive guide on licensing research data:

With all these complexities and ambiguities surrounding the rights of database compilers, reusers need clear guidance from compilers on what they are allowed to do with the data.


The two most effective ways of communicating permissions to potential reusers of data are licences and waivers.

Additionally, assigning licenses ensures that you  will gain the attribution that you deserve for sharing your data.

Creative Commons Licenses

There are different kinds of licenses that can be used for digital objects. Nowadays the most frequently used licenses for data (or other research outputs) are Creative Commons Licenses. Creative Commons is global nonprofit organization which offers six different licenses and guidance on the usage of those licenses. As the FAQ of Creative Commons (2016) states:

All of our licenses require that users provide attribution (BY) to the creator when the material is used and shared. Some licensors choose the BY license, which requires attribution to the creator as the only condition to reuse of the material. The other five licenses combine BY with one or more of three additional license elements: NonCommercial (NC), which prohibits commercial use of the material; NoDerivatives (ND), which prohibits the sharing of adaptations of the material; and ShareAlike (SA), which requires adaptations of the material be released under the same license.

Another option is to assign a CC0 license to your data which actually means that all rights on the data are waived. In contrast to CC-BY licenses, there will be no (legal) requirement to cite the creator of the data if you choose this option (although scientific standards still apply naturally).

End User Licenses of Data Archives, Repositories or Publishers

Data archives and repositories (for further information see the knowledge base’s section on data archives and repositories) often stipulate their own terms of  use on their data in order to protect confidentiality or to prohibit data distribution or commercial usage.


  • Check if you have the right to assign a license to the data (no third parties rights involved)
  • Check if the chosen license is in conformance with conditions prescribed by your informed consent and other contractual agreements.
  • If you are depositing your data with a publisher (e.g. as supplement to a print publication), you should ensure that only non-exclusive rights of use (according to UrhG) are granted to the publisher (Schönbrodt, Gollwitzer, & Abele-Brehm, 2016)