Collaborate, Create, Communicate

Happy Birthday Creative Commons!

Throughout this week, amongst the flurry of news from CoP15 in Copenhagen, one should not forget to celebrate the 7th birthday of Creative Commons.

A week to celebrate free culture, creativity, and knowledge!

Within the CGIAR and in collaboration with other CIARD partners, we are promoting the free use and reuse of our intellectual work.  Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.. there are people who know MUCH more than me about this subject.. but as I had to try and navigate this field myself, let me share with you my learnings…

Now… let’s try and understand….  Creative commons does not mean you are giving away the rights to your work, but it’s about creating licences that while protecting your rights ensure your findings benefit those who need it most…we called it Make your research outputs fly!

What do you need to know?

Copyright is a property right which authors have in relation to the works they create: an idea, a discovery, an image..a research output. It is a right to stop (or control) others from copying or exploiting their works without permission.

The individual author, or his or her institution, will often own copyright in their research outputs. Copyright may however be owned instead by the research funder, or a publisher who is publishing the work, or, for instance, an individual who created images used in the work.

A licence is an agreement, or a statement for users generally, that defines what a user (as an individual or an institution) is allowed to do with the copyrighted materials.

What do you need to do?

There are many benefits from allowing your institution’s research outputs to be used and reused as widely as possible. Attention though! in some cases, you may need to control access to certain items, for instance research articles where the publisher imposes an embargo period after publication, or theses covered by an embargo for a period after the award of a degree.

First of all, be clear about whether your institution or individuals within it own your research outputs (i.e. hold copyright in them). There may be reasons why you do not. Then you can create a licence which states what users are allowed to do with the outputs. Policies governing use and re-use should always be defined explicitly on your repository and web sites.  Your licence should cover all types of content, including metadata (metadata is data that describes the content of the repository.  Without an explicit licence, people should assume that they do not have permission to re-use content. So if you want people to use it… tell them!

Your licence can place heavy restrictions on users limiting them to only looking at and reading content, or you may allow complete freedom to use and re-use in any way that is legal (this is called ‘putting into the public domain’). There are many possibilities between these two extremes.

Conditions for use and re-use do not necessarily have to apply to your content as a whole.  Individual items can be assigned differing rights permissions and conditions if required.

It is now more common to be able to negotiate with publishers and other bodies to retain copyright in your works, or at least to be licensed by the copyright holder to be able to work flexibly with your outputs.


There are many sources of advice on the internet and elsewhere on copyright and licensing – for instance see www.copyrightanswers.blogspot.com for a useful resource where you can ask questions. Another useful site is the JISC-SURF Copyright Toolbox – http://copyrighttoolbox.surf.nl/copyrighttoolbox/. However, if you have any doubts or uncertainties it is always safest to seek legal advice directly from practitioners you know.


Creative Commons has developed licences and other legal advice to help authors keep their copyright while allowing use and reuse of materials. Creative Commons provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators mark their work with the flexibility they want it to have.  (http://creativecommons.org)

Science Commons is working to extend many of the Creative Commons principles specifically into the scientific world. (http://sciencecommons.org)

SHERPA (including RoMEO and JULIET) is a project, and several associated web sites, providing information on copyright, licensing, and associated legal issues for those developing digital repositories and opening up their content to wider usage. (http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/)

For more details on this topic read our pathway  Licence Content to encourage Use and Reuse, developed under our CIARD alliance to improve availability and access of your outputs. Go check the pathways out.  I am sure you will find other useful ones.

In the meantime raise your glasses to Creative Commons…. it deserves it!

By the way, as you trawl around CGIAR websites you will find a growing use of Creative Commons licences… and it should not go un-noticed all content created by ICT-KM is published under a Creative Commons 3.0 license. So feel  free to share, republish or remix all of our text…so long as you attribute ICT-KM clearly as the original source :-)

PS:  Some of the pathways were kindly checked for accuracy by Francesca Re- Manning, a lawyer with the CGIAR Central Advisory Service on Intellectual Property.