Thursday, 22 August 2013

Data and Databases under Creative Commons 4.0 License

As Creative Commons (CC) gets ready to release their version 4.0 licenses (see earlier post here), the question arises: how do the new CC licenses address the sui generis database rights?  This was a subject of several sessions in the current CC Global Summit 2013 in Buenos Aires.
"Have you heard? We can soon be licensed under CC 4.0!"
(Guercino, 1637, Allegory of Painting and Sculpture)


Databases and data present interesting IP challenges.  Some countries offer copyright protection, and others (particularly Europe) provide a sui generis protection.

Databases cover an enormous variety of situations, and the first question that might be asked is “what is a database?” For example, a speaker at the Summit informs us that Wikimedia considers and treats Wikipedia as a non-database (i.e., they openly and explicitly state that they do not consider Wikipedia a database). Yet it’s an organized collection of data, and all of the data in Wikipedia is clearly stored in a database, so is it a database despite the clear and contrary statements of the owner?

In any case, Wikimedia uses the CC0 (Creative Commons Zero) license, which tells the world that they reserve no rights (if such rights exist) in their product.

Any database can have two types of protection – one for the “shell” (i.e., the structure) of the database, and one for the contents. For example, a database of paintings can have protection for the structure or selection or arrangement of the database, and each painting stored in the database has it’s own separate copyright protection.

The default position of the CC 4.0 licenses deals with all of these rights as a whole – i.e., it does not distinguish between the two types. All of the rights owned by the licensor (whether to the database shell or the works therein or both) are treated the same under the selected CC license.

So, for example, if the database is created by the author of the works contained therein, then the license will apply to both the database shell and the contents. This is different from the Open Database License, which only applies to the “shell”. Often times, though, the licensor doesn’t hold the rights to license the contents, so users of a CC licensed database need to be aware that a single license may not be sufficient.


It was clear from the discussions that even the participants in this CC Summit were confused by database protection and the applicability of CC licenses to data and databases. This does not bode well, since most “average” users will hardly have even heard of CC or sui generis database protection. It might be worthwhile for CC and other like-minded organizations to devote additional resources to public awareness in this area.

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