What is a licence?

If you own the copyright in a work, you’ll probably want others to use it according to certain conditions. The permissions you give to others will come in the form of a copyright licence.

A licence is a legal agreement between you and the people who use your work. It makes clear how you intend others to reuse or share your work and what they need to do.


Why apply a licence?

If you don’t use a licence, the default position of «all rights reserved» will apply to your work. This means no reuse beyond those described by copyright law is allowed and it isn’t clear how you intend your work to be reused.

This lack of clarity means that people may:

  • Not use your work and therefore not cite or quote it.
  • Use the work anyway beyond your intent without giving you attribution.

Applying a licence makes your intent clear and places the obligation to respect your wishes and rights on the user.


Choosing a licence

Your choice of licence depends on:

  • The type of work you are making available.
  • The extent of reuse you want to allow.
  • The publishing route you choose.


Creative Commons licences

Creative Commons (CC) licenses are globally recognized, standard, machine readable licenses used for open academic publishing and sharing of research data. Every CC license ensures that creators get credit for their work. Copyright ownership remains with the licensor.

There are six different types of Creative Commons licenses: CC BY, CC BY-SA, CC BY-NC, CC BY-ND, CC BY-NC-SA, CC BY-NC-ND. The letter pairs indicate conditions for use.

  • BY: Creator must be credited.
  • SA: Derivatives or redistributions must have identical license.
  • NC: Only non-commercial uses are allowed.
  • ND: No derivatives are allowed.

Overview of what each Creative Commons license permits you to do

Source: Creative Commons licenses by Foter (CC-BY-SA)

Think carefully before attaching a CC license

Once granted a CC license cannot be withdrawn from someone who is already reusing your work under the license, so think carefully before attaching a CC license to your work. And do not forget check if your funding body requires a certain type of license.

What licence should be applied ?

If your research data qualifies as a work (literary work such as a journal article or a chapter book), then CC BY 4.0 is usually the best choice.

If your research data is a database or a dataset (unstructured data that do not meet the database definition) usually the best option is a CC0, which waives all your rights in the database.

Non-commercial should be avoided as it is not Open Access compliant.

Choose a License

Try the Creative Commons Licence Chooser tool.



For more information and assistance, contact Documentation Centre and Library.


Choose a licence for your research works (University of Kent) https://www.kent.ac.uk/guides/open-access-at-kent/choose-a-licence-for-your-research-works

OpenAIRE. Licenses for Research Data. https://www.openaire.eu/howdo-i-license-my-research-data

Open content licenses – Creative Commons (Aalto University) https://www.aalto.fi/en/open-science-and-research/open-content-licenses-creative-commons

Last updated: 22/02/2024