Licensing data and code on the Open Science Foundation

Research funders are beginning to require that data produced in the course of the research they fund should be made openly available. This is to encourage further discovery and exploration, as well as to extend research questions. In addition, releasing data and code can be in researchers’ interest because it provides a complete and transparent record of how the conclusions were reached from the data, it protects researchers from future challenges, it encourages learning from mistakes as well as successes, and it promotes a culture of openness. Licenses provide a means to release data while making clear its terms of use.

In a previous post on how to license computer code, we learned that different types of permissive and copyleft licenses determine how accessible or restrictive we can make software to users. Do the same principles apply to licensing research data?

In general, yes. Licenses usually grant permissions on condition that certain terms are fulfilled. In general, the conditions commonly found in licenses are:

  1. Attribution. An attribution condition means the licensor must be given due credit for the work when it is distributed, displayed, performed, or used to derive a new work.


  2. Copyleft. A copyleft condition means any new works derived from the licensed one must be released under the same license, and only that license.

  3. Non-commerciality. The intent of a non-commercial license is to prevent the licensee from exploiting the work commercially. Such licenses are often used as part of multiple licensing, where the alternative licence allows commercial uses but requires payment to the licensor.

Data repositories such as the Open Science Foundation (OSF) allow users to pre-register study protocols, host data and code, as well as license data and code. Because research is often supported by funders and conducted at academic or research institutions, researchers are recommended to check for license obligations required by institutions and funders. At the OSF, licenses for data and code can be added as shown:


Figure 1:



When adding a license for research data, think about what conditions (if any) you would like:

  • Use an Attribution condition if you would like to require that those reusing your research give you credit.
  • Consider making your research public domain if you do not want to require Attribution.
  • If your research data are released into the public domain, your are permanently waiving all copyright interests and rights to that data; this includes any control over how your data are used or protection against unfair competition.

At the time of writing, the OSF provides two types of licenses for research content:

  • CCO 1.0 Universal: The work is dedicated to the public domain, and all rights to the work worldwide under copyright law are waived.
  • CC-By Attribution 4.0 International: The work can be shared or adapted, but appropriate credit must be given, and any changes made are indicated. This must be done in a reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.


Licensing research data and code provides a means to make research work accessible while making clear its terms of use, and can be advantageous to researchers. Consider what conditions are required when choosing a license.


Ball, A. (2014). ‘How to License Research Data’. DCC How-to Guides. Edinburgh: Digital Curation Centre. Available online:

OSF Guide: Licensing best practices.

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