Changes in CC-BY — version 4.0

 What follows is a guest blog on the new CC-BY 4.0 license written by Puneet Kishor, Manager, Science and Policy Data at Creative Commons.



CC 4.0, the latest version of Creative Commons (CC) licenses, was officially launched on November 25, 2013. CC licenses are free, easy-to-use and provide a simple, standardized way to allow content creators to share and use their creative work with permissions and conditions of their choice. CC licenses, which can vary from the very liberal CC BY to the very restrictive CC BY-NC-ND, let the creator easily change copyright terms from the default all rights reserved to some rights reserved.

CC licenses are not an alternative to copyright: they work alongside existing copyright and database rights and enable creators to modify permissions and conditions to best suit their needs.

With regards to scientific content, one of the most important rights particularly relevant to the EU is the database protection right aka sui generis database rights (SGDR). After a public consultation of more than two years, CC believes the new version of their license is especially suited for use in the European Union:

The 4.0 licenses are extremely well-suited for use by governments and publishers of public sector information and other data, especially for those in the European Union. This is due to the expansion in license scope, which now covers sui generis database rights that exist there and in a handful of other countries.

The following points describe in some detail the new or improved parts of the CC4 licenses relevant to science and data.

The main improvements of CC 4.0 compared with CC 3.0

CC 4.0 now covers database rights, also known as sui generis database rights (SGDR), that are very relevant in the EU context. That means a database maker based in the EU can use a CC 4.0 license to grant permission to exercise rights that could otherwise interfere with reuse of the database, relieving an EU-based user of any worries that she might be violating SGDR. See Section 4 of the legal code for details.

CC 4.0 also makes attribution much easier by making those requirements more flexible. The user can provide attribution “in any reasonable manner based on the medium, means, and context” in which the licensed material is shared. This includes express permission to meet the obligations by simply including a URI to another page that has all the information needed. This may be attractive to scientific researchers, especially those applying licenses to data, where it might be impractical to include all details and contributors alongside the data itself. See Section 3a of the legal code for details.

The new licenses now require users to indicate if licensed material has been modified, even when doing so hasn’t created an adaptation. In the data context, this puts downstream users on notice that the database has been modified. Ideally, the person who made the changes indicates just what has been changed, but at the very least, it indicates to the user that she may want to consult with the original version of the database to see what has changed. This preserves provenance, which is important in science.

Relevance of CC 4.0 license to European Research

A globally recognizable license brings instant recognition and assurance of the legal status and interoperability of the content. Researchers in the EU can rest assured rights and permissions in their work will be recognized easily by users outside the EU, and EU researchers can use CC marked works from anywhere in the world. This is not specific to CC 4.0 but is a general CC characteristic. Of course, CC 4.0’s inclusion of SGDR now makes this interoperability more extensive.

CC 4.0 license suitable for all types of research data

Indeed. CC 4.0 licenses may be used for any material that has copyright, database rights, or certain other rights. We still recommend CC0 Public Domain Dedication as the default for scientific data (both for STEM and for HSS), as it essentially removes the legal requirement for attribution thereby making reuse maximally easy and flexible. In places and situations where a license may be more desirable, CC BY 4.0 is a good choice. We don’t recommend anything less liberal than those two; however, CC BY SA 4.0 would also be conformant with the Open Knowledge Definition.

Consequences of violating the license terms

That question is not specific to CC licenses. If someone violates the license, either you grin and bear it, or shame the person, or, if it is really worth your time and money, set your lawyers on that person. In this context, even the default copyright license operates similarly. Note that while Creative Commons creates, offers, and stewards the licenses, it does not offer legal advice and does not undertake legal action on behalf of the users of its licenses.

Just like the earlier versions, CC 4.0 license terms terminate automatically if they are violated. However, CC 4.0 has a new cure clause which gives the violator 30 days from the time violation is discovered to cure the violation and have the license terms reinstated. See Section 6b of the legal code for details.

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