Much of the potential value of data is to society at large — more data has the potential to facilitate enhanced scientific collaboration and reproducibility, more efficient markets, increased government and corporate transparency, and overall to speed discovery and understanding of solutions to planetary and societal needs.
A big part of the potential value of data, in particular its society-wide value, is realized by use across organizational boundaries. How does this occur (legally)? Copyright applies to fixed, creative expression regardless of medium, so copyright may restrict uses of data and databases. Purely factual or unoriginal material is not covered by copyright and related restrictions, though the extent to which compilations of facts may be restricted varies considerably across jurisdictions. Many sites give narrow permission to use data via terms of service. Much ad hoc data sharing occurs among researchers. And increasingly, open data is facilitated by sharing under public terms, e.g. CC licenses or the CC0 public domain dedication.
Below are links to case studies of organizations, institutions, and governments using CC tools for data.
You can also read more about Creative Commons' most up-to-date thinking on data and databases, and what you can do to contribute.
A list of uses of CC0 for data. CC0 (read “CC Zero”) is a universal public domain dedication that may be used by anyone wishing to permanently surrender the copyright and database rights they may have in a work, thereby placing it as nearly as possible into the public domain. CC0 is particularly relevant to data.
A list of uses of CC licenses for data. Though we do recommend CC0 for scientific data (and we’re thrilled to see CC0 used in other domains, for any content and data), where CC0 is not desired for whatever reason (business requirements, community wishes, institutional policy…) CC licenses can and should be used for data and databases — with the important caveat that CC 3.0 license conditions do not extend to “protect” a database that is otherwise uncopyrightable.