Intergovernmental Organizations

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Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) are using CC to share research, data, and educational materials they produce. IGOs, like all creators who want wide dissemination of their content, realize they can benefit greatly from the use of Creative Commons licenses--maximizing the impact of their investments. A number of IGOs have already agreed that as publicly minded institutions, they believe adopting an open licensing policy for at least some subset of publications is the preferred mechanism for ensuring the broadest and most widespread use and reuse of the information they publish.

This page explains some of the benefits for IGOs that publish content under Creative Commons licenses, clarifies unique legal considerations, provides case study examples of IGOs already using CC, aggregates frequently asked questions, and addresses common licensing scenarios and options available to IGOs.

Why IGOs Should Use CC

IGOs' missions are already aligned with sharing information and resources

Disseminating useful information widely is aligned with the mission and practice of most IGOs. Sharing information and content -- ranging from education assessment metrics to cultural heritage resources to research studies on the environmental impact of fossil fuels -- is central to the purpose and function of IGOs. IGOs hope that the information and content that they create is maximally useful to the diverse communities they serve, helping citizens, governments, civic institutions, and businesses make informed decisions.

Almost all IGOs maintain Terms of Service (TOS) on their websites, and most TOSs contain information about copyright. A brief overview of several IGO TOS notices shows that most allow site visitors to download, copy, and use website materials, publications, and educational resources at least for personal, non-commercial purposes as long as copyright notice information remains intact and the user gives credit to the original author (usually via name, title of publication, and associated URL). These requirements are aligned with Creative Commons licensing, and applying CC licensing to works communicates these permissions in a clear, easy-to-understand fashion. In addition, CC licensing provides other benefits, making resources meant to be shared more easily discoverable via search engines like Google.

CC helps clarify rights to users in advance

Materials like reports, photographs and videos released under the default All Rights Reserved copyright require the end user to ask permission in order to use the resource. This framework results in IGOs spending a significant amount of time approving use requests. The effort required to clear such materials is significant, and the resulting copyright friction means that these resources are less likely to be used, shared, or repurposed. Without a standardized open license, the impact of the resources will be significantly diminished because potential users will remain unsure of how they can use the materials.[1]

Creative Commons licenses offer a simple, standardized way to grant flexible copyright permissions. The adoption of Creative Commons licenses can increase the dissemination, discoverability, reuse, and translatability of research and education materials. CC licenses are the global standard for open content licenses, and are leveraged by corporations, institutions, and government bodies, and IGOs worldwide. Creative Commons licenses lower the transaction costs normally associated with seeking permission to use resources by granting some rights in advance.

[1] The OECD has described the challenges to dissemination of information under the All Rights Reserved copyright framework as follows: "While information technology makes it possible to multiply and distribute content worldwide and almost at no cost, legal restrictions on the reuse of copyrighted material hamper its negotiability in the digital environment ... the Creative Commons license is by far the best-known license for such content, the use of which is growing exponentially." Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources

CC helps ensure IGOs receive credit for the resources they create

IGOs who use CC licenses get the credit they deserve for the work they create. All CC licenses require that attribution is given to the IGO, and under the terms specified by that group. The IGOs also don’t need to worry about expending the effort to draft specific terms of services to designate how their works can be used; the Creative Commons licenses already do that, and every CC license works around the world and lasts as long as applicable copyright lasts (because the licenses are built on copyright). These common features serve as the baseline, on top of which IGOs can choose to grant additional permissions when deciding how they want their work to be used.

FAQ: Why CC Licenses Work for IGOs

Some IGOs have voiced concerns over how CC licenses operate given their status as IGOs. Below are listed some common questions and concerns, and why CC can be used.

Can anyone use a CC license? What about governments and intergovernmental organizations ("IGOs")?

Anyone may use CC licenses for works they own, including governments and IGOs. CC licenses are frequently used by governments and IGOs to license copyrightable works. The reasons for doing so vary, and often include a desire to maximize the impact and utility of works for educational and informational purposes, and to enhance transparency.

Creative Commons licenses have desirable features that make them the preferred choice over custom licenses. CC licenses are standard and interoperable, which means works published by different authors using the same type of CC license can be translated, modified, compiled and/or remixed depending on the particular license applied. Creative Commons licenses are also machine-readable, allowing CC-licensed works to be easily discovered via search engines such as Google. These features maximize distribution, reuse and impact of works published by governments and IGOs.

What should IGOs consider before applying a CC license?

Creative Commons recommends that IGOs use the international (formerly known as the "unported") licenses. While no CC license (ported or unported) waives privileges and immunities that may apply to IGOs, the international licenses may be preferred because they have not been adapted to the laws of any particular jurisdiction. Using these licenses instead of a license adapted to the implementation of copyright law in a particular jurisdiction (a “ported license”) avoids any implication that an IGO has consented to jurisdiction or forum for resolution of disputes arising under the licenses, or has agreed that disputes arising under the licenses should be resolved in accordance with a particular jurisdiction’s laws.

Do CC licenses impose obligations on IGOs (or other licensors) that could result in liability?

No. CC licenses do not impose obligations on licensors, but instead grant others permission to use the licensed works consistent with license terms and conditions. The only exception is the undertaking by licensors not to enforce their copyright as long as the license terms are respected. CC licensors have the choice of enforcing (or not) any copyright licenses they grant.

This point is worth stressing. CC licenses impose no affirmative obligations of any kind on licensors. There are more than 500,000,000 CC-licensed texts, photos, websites and other works. Since the licenses were first published more than 8 years ago, CC has not been made aware of any claim made against a licensor under the licenses. The reason is simple: licensors are only waiving their rights to enforce copyright under certain circumstances, not accepting any affirmative duties or obligations in the license itself. This makes CC licenses qualitatively different from the kinds of contracts or agreements that could subject IGOs to the jurisdiction of any particular country or legal process.

As still further protection, in the unlikely event a claim is made against an IGO under a CC license, nothing in the license waives applicable privileges and immunities, or subjects the licensor to the jurisdiction of any given country’s court or legal system.

What law would be applied if an IGO itself chooses to enforec the terms of the license against a violator?

None of the CC 3.0 international licenses (contains a forum or jurisdiction selection clause. The only ported 3.0 licenses that contain a forum selection clause are the Hong Kong 3.0 licenses. This suite is not recommended for use by licensors who want to preserve their right to bring an action in another forum.

A few of the ported licenses contain a choice of law provision. CC suggests that IGOs use the international licenses because they do not contain any forum selection clause or any choice of law, leaving the decision of which forum and law applies to the tribunal in which enforcement of the license is sought by the IGO.

Those responsible for setting intellectual property or publication policy within an IGO should consider making these points clear in their copyright notice. One suggested implementation is:

© YEAR by ORGANIZATION. TITLE OF PUBLICATION is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (unported): For the avoidance of doubt, by applying this license ORGANIZATION does not waive any privileges or immunities from claims that it may be entitled to assert, nor does ORGANIZATION submit itself to the jurisdiction, courts, legal processes or laws of any jurisdiction.

Case Studies

Featured Intergovernmental Organization Case Studies

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What If... Scenarios of Using CC Licenses

The most common scenario when using Creative Commons licenses is as follows: An IGO posts an article about child hunger in Malaysia to their website under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial license (BY-NC).

What happens: A number of other organizations who are also interested in child hunger, both in Malaysia and in other parts of the world. These organizations print the IGO’s article to hand out to their volunteers in the field, they repost the article on their own sites, and they email the article to others interested in the topic, all the time crediting the IGO who created the article. They do not sell it or attempt to make money using the article.

A “but what if” Scenario: An IGO posts a report to their website under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial NoDerivs license (BY-NC-ND). A blogger posts a large section of the report on his blog without attributing the IGO.

What happens: Creative Commons suggests contacting the blogger and asking the blogger to comply with the terms of the license by posting the full report with attribution or to remove the portion that was posted. In most cases where a licensor contacts a licensee to discuss non-compliance with the license, the licensee adjusts their use to comply or removes the offending work. If the licensee refuses to comply, the IGO can bring a suit in the forum of the IGOs choice.

A second “What if”:

What if the blogger attempts to file a declaratory judgment to have a court declare his use of the report legal after being asked by the IGO to comply with the license? This is very unlikely; Creative Commons is unaware of it ever happening. However, were it to happen, the court would use its choice of law rules to decide what law should apply to license. Since the BY-NC-ND license is very clear about it’s requirements for attribution and what constitutes a derivative work, the chances of such a declaratory judgement succeeding in this case are very slim.

  1. The OECD has described the challenges to dissemination of information under the All Rights Reserved copyright framework as follows: "While information technology makes it possible to multiply and distribute content worldwide and almost at no cost, legal restrictions on the reuse of copyrighted material hamper its negotiability in the digital environment ... the Creative Commons license is by far the best-known license for such content, the use of which is growing exponentially." Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources