The Open Knowledge Foundation has announced the release of the version 1.0 of the Open Database Licence (ODbL). As the name implies, the ODbL is an open licence which protects data contained in databases, and allows the modification, redistribution, use and reuse of such data. Databases are protected either by copyright, or in Europe by the sui generis database right, and this licence covers both types of protection. As stated by the licence:

“The Open Database License (ODbL) is a license agreement intended to allow users to freely share, modify, and use this Database while maintaining this same freedom for others. Many databases are covered by copyright, and therefore this document licenses these rights. Some jurisdictions, mainly in the European Union, have specific rights that cover databases, and so the ODbL addresses these rights, too. Finally, the ODbL is also an agreement in contract for users of this Database to act in certain ways in return for accessing this Database.”

Good stuff. The main users of the licence will be some open map peer-produced projects and other geo-location collaborative efforts such as OpenStreetMap or These projects provide high-quality valuable data mined and maintained for free by volunteers, so they do not want to see their efforts commercialised by unscrupulous data providers. ODbL therefore provides an easily accessible licence written specifically with databases in mind.

Some readers may wonder why these open data projects are not using a Creative Commons licence. The problem with using CC for databases is that these are specifically designed for copyright, and as already mentioned, some databases may not be protected in that manner. Besides, Creative Commons tends to frown upon licence proliferation. The ODbL was briefly covered by John Wilbanks of Science Commons at the COMMUNIA conference last Tuesday in Turin. Science Commons is looking mostly at scientific data, so its target audience is slightly different. SC’s licensing strategy favours the public domain, and the existence of public domain dedications such as CC0. I see the point of SC’s criticism of the ODbL, but thankfully the Open Knowledge Foundation and SC have agreed to disagree, and the ODbL will not be recommended for scientific data, but mostly for its core target market.

Kudos to Jordan Hatcher, Rufus Pollock and Jonathan Gray for their hard work, ODbL is a worthy addition to the corpus of open licences.



john wilbanks · July 3, 2009 at 8:51 am

Don't forget the Public Domain Dedication and License also from the OKF, which is also a way to implement the Science Commons protocol. I'm trying to make sure that the concept of "anything that implements public domain interoperability is good" gets through as the SC position. Thanks for the post and it was great to see you in Torino.


Andres · July 3, 2009 at 10:03 am

Thanks John, you're right, any PD dedication will do.

It was great to see you too!

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