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Do not recreate the wheel!

Governments around the world are using standard, legally interoperable tools like Creative Commons licenses and public domain instruments to share a wide range of content they produce or fund the production of, including public sector information, scientific research, cultural content, and educational materials. This page explains some of the benefits for governments choosing to publish content under Creative Commons tools instead of creating their own custom government license.

Why Governments Benefit from Using CC

Governments' missions are aligned with sharing information and resources

Disseminating useful information globally is aligned with the mission and work of most public sector bodies. Information and content that governments create or fund to create can be made maximally useful to the diverse communities they serve, helping citizens, other government agencies, civic institutions, and businesses across all sectors. It puts the money of governments where their mouth is, working to maximize the efficiency of public spending, encouraging access and reuse of publicly funded content, and promoting economic activity by communicate liberal reuse rights in advance.

Most IGOs maintain Terms of Service (TOS) on their websites containing information about copyright. Visitors are often permitted 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 credit is given to the original author (usually via name, title of publication, and associated URL). These requirements parallel requirements contained in Creative Commons licenses. CC licenses have the added benefit of communicating these permissions in a clear, easy-to-understand fashion and are widely understood by users around the world. In addition, CC licenses provide other benefits, including enhanced discoverability of resources intended for reuse to be 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 in the absence of some applicable exception or limitation under applicable copyright law. This framework means IGOs must dedicate resources to review and approve those requests. From the user perspective, the time and effort required to obtain the permission can be significant. The result is that resources are less likely to be used, shared, or repurposed, significantly diminishing the potential impact of information published. (The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (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 ... [T]he Creative Commons license is by far the best-known license for such content, the use of which is growing exponentially." OECD (2007) Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources, p.13.

Creative Commons licenses offer a simple, standardized way to grant flexible copyright permissions in advance. The adoption of Creative Commons licenses increases 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 worldwide. Creative Commons licenses lower the transaction costs normally associated with seeking and granting permission to use resources by granting limited permission in advance.

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 be given to author in the manner specified. IGOs also need not worry about expending resources crafting custom terms of service specifying how their works can be used. Creative Commons licenses contain vetted, legally robust standard copyright terms and conditions. These common features serve as the baseline, on top of which IGOs can choose to grant additional permissions if desired.

FAQ: Why CC Licenses Work for IGOs

IGOs are unique in several respects from individuals and other organizations. Below are some common questions about how CC licenses work for IGOs.

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. 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 (however remote or unlikely) 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 agreeing to forego their right to enforce copyright under certain conditions, 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 liability, or 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.

What law would be applied if an IGO itself chooses to enforce 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. For this reason, CC suggests that IGOs use the international licenses because those licenses squarely leave the decision of which forum and law to apply 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 (international): 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.