Deciding what license is best for your dataset

Nicolas Terpolilli Updated by Nicolas Terpolilli

This page provides guidance on how to select an appropriate license for a dataset. Choosing the right license for your dataset is crucial to establish the terms under which others can use, modify, and distribute your data. This guide outlines key considerations and popular licensing options for open datasets.

Open data or private, your users need to know what they can do with the data you've provided. License metadata allows you to inform users of the precise conditions for your data's reuse, and that you can also share in the dataset's description. 

Considerations when choosing a license

  1. Intended use: Decide how you want others to use your dataset. Will it be for research, commercial purposes, educational use, or a combination of these uses? The license should reflect how you want the data to be used.
  2. Openness: Decide on the level of openness you want to provide. Some licenses require derivative works to be released under the same terms, while others allow more flexibility. Consider the balance between openness and potential restrictions.
  3. Attribution: Decide whether you want users to give you credit when they use your dataset. Some licenses require attribution, while others do not. This can affect how your dataset is acknowledged in downstream projects.
  4. Modification: Determine whether you want others to be able to modify your dataset. If yes, specify whether modified versions must be shared under the same license.
  5. Distribution: Consider whether you want to allow commercial distribution of your dataset. Some licenses prohibit commercial use, while others allow it.
  6. Compatibility: If your dataset builds on or incorporates other open datasets, ensure that the license you choose is compatible with those licenses to avoid conflicts.
Private data with personal information
You must anonymize personal information before any distribution, in a restricted ecosystem or not. Refer to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and contact your Data Protection Officer (DPO) if necessary.

1. Open data licenses

Open data licenses are specifically designed for open data. They provide legal tools to share and use data openly while addressing common issues.

For this you can use:

  • The Etalab Open License: it authorizes the reproduction, redistribution, adaptation and commercial exploitation of data, on the sole condition of mentioning paternity.
  • The Open Data Commons Open Database License (ODbL): it allows you to freely share the dataset, to use it to create services and to modify it, on condition that you name its creator, keep it open and redistribute it under the same conditions and under the same license.

2. Creative Commons licenses

Creative Commons licenses provide a range of options that allow creators to retain certain rights while granting specific permissions to others. These licenses are well-suited to datasets that require different levels of openness.

  • CC0 : this is the most permissive because it puts the dataset in the public domain, without any restriction on reuse.
  • CC BY (Attribution): Requires attribution. Others can use, modify, and distribute your dataset, even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you.
  • CC BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike): Requires attribution and any derivative works to be shared under the same license. This encourages a "viral" open approach.
  • CC BY-NC (Attribution-NonCommercial): Allows others to use and modify your dataset but not for commercial purposes.

Creative commons specifications

3. Public domain dedication

You can choose to release your dataset into the public domain, waiving all rights. This allows anyone to use the dataset for any purpose without restrictions.

4. Custom license

You can create a custom license that suits your specific requirements. Ensure that the terms are clear and easily understandable.


Selecting the right license for your open dataset involves a careful assessment of your goals and values. By considering the intended use, openness, attribution, modification, distribution, compatibility, and available licensing options, you can make an informed decision that promotes the effective use and sharing of your dataset.

Consult legal professionals for advice tailored to your situation before finalizing your dataset's license.


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