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Licensing content

As the creator of an original work, you are typically granted far-reaching rights that govern and limit redistribution and -use of your creation by default. By applying a license to your work, you make clear what others can do with the things you're sharing, and also the conditions under which you're providing them. You can also require others who copy your work to do things in return.

You're free to draft your own terms, but it's common to apply a pre-made license template. There are several options to choose from that vary in their terms, and in their suitability for data and materials as opposed to source code.

Getting started


General-purpose licenses

For all material except source code, creative commons licenses are the most common choice. They always require attribution to the original source, and optionally disallow commercial use and derivative works. You can also require others to share modifications under the same terms. The creative commons website will walk you through choosing a license.

The CC0 license helps you waive your rights as the originator of a creative work to the greatest possible extent, placing your material in the public domain.

Licensing materials and papers


Licenses for program code

Open licenses have been used for decades in computer science and software engineering, where sharing code has a long tradition. Therefore, a wider range of licenses specific to software code is available.

Licensing software

  • The Software Sustainability Institute provides an in-depth discussion of choosing an open-source license focussed on scientific software.
  • TLDR legal summarizes most open source licenses, and lists the rights and demands they confer.