Data licensing

Data licensing plays a pivotal role in fostering data sharing, transparency, and responsible use within the research community and beyond. Licenses stipulate whether data can be freely used, modified, redistributed, and under what conditions. Choosing the right license is crucial: open licenses promote collaboration and reuse, while more restrictive licenses may protect sensitive or proprietary information.

Creative Commons licenses
The Creative Commons licenses provide the opportunity to assign rights in re-using data, which are legal, human-readable and machine-readable. There are seven standard Creative Commons licenses where, in terms of data, CC0 and CC-BY are the most used licenses.

Both of these licenses permit others to use, distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the work, even for commercial purposes. CC0 allows for the broadest reuse without any attribution requirement. CC-BY should be used when you want to maximize openness and allow others to use and build upon your research data, while still ensuring proper credit is given to you as the original creator.

The possible choices for the license to apply to your data may, however, be limited by the repository in which you store your data. Creative Commons provides a guide to determine the preferred license.

Open Database licenses
Another option for licensing your data is using Open Database licenses. While these are less commonly used, open database licenses clearly separate licensing the data(base) and the content created with it. For example, in a database full of photographs there are rights in the database and separate rights in the photographs. Open Database licenses (ODbL) for the database can be combined with Database Contents licenses (DbCL) for the photographs, or even combined with Creative Commons licenses and thus provide more flexibility.


A software license governs the use or redistribution of software. Without a license, all rights remain with the author of the code, meaning that nobody else can use, copy, distribute, or modify the software without permission. A license provides the permissions to use the software under well-defined conditions, so always license your software if you want to share it. Licensing generally increases, not decreases, the openness of your software.

It is important to choose a license early, in particular when the development of the software is a collaborative effort. If no license is in place on time, a collaborator will hold copyright on each new contribution and will thus need to be asked for an approval when a license is chosen. Often, you also need to consider your licensing strategy in your data management plan (DMP). It is recommended to add a LICENSE.txt file in the source directory of your software, or to mention add the license at the beginning of your code. That way you make sure that your license is visible to others.

If further questions about data or software licenses remain, then please contact the data stewards of the RDM support team.

Selecting a software license
Creative Commons licenses and Open Database licenses are suitable for data but not for software. Since they are not appropriate for software, a special software license should be used.

First of all, when selecting a software license, it is important to determine who owns the research software you wrote. If you wrote the software as a part of your employment at TU/e, it is important to consult with Innovation Lab to discuss any issues of ownership and intellectual property protection (particularly if patenting of the software is under consideration).

If your software has dependencies or incorporates other people’s work, make sure that your software’s license is compatible with the licenses of the software it depends on. For example, you cannot use MIT on top of GPL. You should also decide whether you require others who modify your software to release it under a compatible license.

Some recommended licenses are:

  • MIT License - a permissive license that allows users to do almost anything with the software, including using it in proprietary projects, as long as the original license is included in the distribution.
  • Apache license - similar to the MIT License, but it includes a patent grant, offering some protection against patent litigation.
  • GNU General Public License (GPL) - allows the user to do whatever they want with the software, including modify and sell it, provided that they also give that right to others and mention the author(s) of the software.

To select a license, you can use this tool, or follow these recommendations.