Open Data: help from Microsoft

In reply to my last post (about the idea of adding Creative Commons licenses to scientific data)…

  1. Robin Rice Says:
    December 12th, 2006 at 7:04 pm eThere was an article in the October issue of Ariadne, Creative Commons Licences in Higher and Further Education: Do We Care? which points out some of the questions around widespread use of Creative Commons licenses. “Naomi Korn and Charles Oppenheim discuss the history and merits of using Creative Commons licences whilst questioning whether these licences are indeed a panacea.”

Robin – that’s wonderful – I’d missed this but I’ll quote extensively (the article is Openly available and while it doesn’t fulfil all the criteria of the BOAI it allows extensive quoting. But you can’t resell it :-)…

Creative Commons Licences in Higher and Further Education: Do We Care?
Naomi Korn and Charles Oppenheim discuss the history and merits of using Creative Commons licences while questioning whether these licences are indeed a panacea.

The recent incorporation of Creative Commons licences within Microsoft Office Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications via a downloadable plug-in [7] now provides an integrated method for the creation and licensing of content. It is a brilliant way of encouraging consideration about who is allowed access to digital content and under what conditions, at the time that the content is generated. This development has enormous potential for nurturing educated and mature approaches to copyright and access, but at the same time had also necessitated the need to re-examine the validity of using Creative Commons within teaching, learning and research activities. It has precipitated a critical assessment of their use and the need to set clear parameters about when they can and cannot be used.

[7 is Microsoft Office plug-in ]

PMR: This is really exciting. I don’t mind other people being visited by a meme ahead of me – it strengthens my resolve. From the Microsoft (yes, Microsoft) page:


This add-in enables you to embed a Creative Commons license into a document that you create using the popular applications: Microsoft Office Word, Microsoft Office PowerPoint, or Microsoft Office Excel. With a Creative Commons license, authors can express their intentions regarding how their works may be used by others.
The add-in downloads the Creative Commons license you designate from the Creative Commons Web site and inserts it directly into your creative work. Creative Commons supports a number of languages.
To learn more about Creative Commons, please visit its web site, To learn more about the choices among the Creative Commons licenses, see
Microsoft Office productivity applications are the most widely used personal productivity applications in the world, and Microsoft’s goal is to enhance the user’s experience with those applications. Empowering Microsoft Office users to express their intentions through Creative Commons licenses is another way Microsoft enables users around the world to exercise their creative freedom while being clear about the rights granted to users of a creative work. In the past, it has not always been easy or obvious to understand the intentions of some authors or artists regarding distribution or use of their intellectual creations.
This add-in is made available through a partnership among Creative Commons, Microsoft, and 3Sharp, LLC, an independent solution provider.
The Creative Commons Add-in is an unsupported technology preview, however we welcome your feedback and input. Please send it to us at

PMR: Whatever else one thinks of Microsoft, this looks like a genuine and important offering.
My Korn-Oppenheim approximation (couldn’t resist the pun)… I quote snippets…

Creative Commons actively encourages the sharing of educational material, … This ‘standard licence’ is not specific for educational purposes and users can only choose, as in the case of the majority of Creative Commons licences, to make the content available either for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Creative Commons licences do not specifically cater for educational purposes.
It is also worth noting that there is a significant difference between the information that is provided within the full-length licence in comparison to that which appears within the shortened code of Creative Commons licences. […]

  • If the work includes third party rights for which the Higher or Further Education institution has not secured permission for them to then be disseminated under a CC licence. This might include the use of photographs, text, images, etc., generated by third parties, or indeed images of third parties for which permission would need to be sought.
  • As an employee, unless there is an agreement with the employer to the contrary, the employer is likely to own the rights in the work created (as is the case with course material, research outputs, etc). In this case, as the employee does not own the rights in the work that is produced, he or she will need to check with the institution that it is happy for it to be made available under a Creative Commons licence. Reasons for refusal might include those that are ethical, political, financial or legal. We are, of course, aware that in many institutions, custom and practice leaves such decisions to the employee. The recent HEFCE Good Practice Guide [17], however, strongly encourages such institutions to assert ownership of copyright in e-learning materials, and such advice may well occasion changes in policy in the future.
  • The terms of the Creative Commons licence may cut across some of the activities for which an institution or department might normally charge, the business activities of the department or institution, or undermine existing licensing arrangements with third parties.
  • Creative Commons licences are global licences without providing any means to restrict the countries in which material may be used. This is important if contractual agreements, relationships, political or ethical reasons preclude the release of certain types of learning material or research outputs in particular countries.
  • The department or institution may want more control over the context of use of the work and want to prevent any implied or direct endorsement. This is not currently one of the areas which is covered by the licence.
  • It maybe important to know who accesses and uses the material that is generated, for evaluation, marketing and other in-house purposes. The Creative Commons licences have no provision for user accountability, or tracing of usage.
  • There are also many instances where you cannot use TPMS (Technical Protection Measures) in conjunction with the use of Creative Commons licences, if TPMS undermine any of the provisions of the licences. Thus, for example, restricting access to students within the institution is incompatible with a Creative Commons licence.
  • The Creative Commons licence does not cover database rights, yet much output from FE and HE institutions is protected by such rights. Thus, even with a Creative Commons licence, users may not infringe any database rights.
  • It is, in any case, unclear if Creative Commons licences are valid in UK law, as they do not provide any ‘consideration’ or payment, and there is no ‘I agree’ button to accept.

Concluding Remarks

The well-known JORUM service [18] decided not to use Creative Commons licences in the past because of some of the points made within this article. So, are Creative Commons licences a panacea? No. Should we worry? Probably not, but we need to be aware of the implications and limitations of using Creative Commons licences and remember that their use is only as good as staff awareness about copyright issues, rights management procedures and robust policies underpinning the operations of educational institutions. HE and FE institutions need to be clear about their policies towards access and broader strategic and commercial goals, before committing themselves to the irrevocable terms of Creative Commons licences.
It might be advisable instead for institutions to explore the use of Creative Archive licences [5], which are a set of more restrictive licences, based upon the same premise as Creative Commons but with limits upon the use of content for educational and non-commercial purposes and restrictions relating to the territories in which they may be used.

All these are valid points. However I am only concerned here with scientific facts supporting research output. I hope that HE institutions do not regard themselves as the owners of scientific facts in which case there is no problem. I agree that CC is not designed for science – hence the Science Commons effort.
I haven’t downloaded and installed the plugin, but my main concern is that someone might leave the CC license switched on at an early stage. If this circulated in private it might vitiate a patent although I don’t know the law. When the data has appeared the license has no effect on a patent which has been successfully filed. You cannot patent data.
So let’s encourage everyone to download this plugin. Wow!

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