Open Access: License Guide

Open Access services and guidance for researchers at the University of Helsinki. #openaccess #openscience #ORCID #selfarchiving

Which license should I choose?

The Creative Commons licenses (CC licenses) have become a standard for open publishing and determining the subsequent use of an open access work. In CC licensing (latest version 4.0) the copyright of the work remain with the author. For open software there are also MIT- and GNU-GPL-licenses, among others. In all cases of sharing and determining the subsequent use, the following rule applies: If material includes sensitive or confidential data or personal data that can be connected to certain person without a purpose, the data must be anonymized before sharing.

Recommendations of the University of Helsinki

In general, the University of Helsinki recommends CC BY license for sharing publications, unless there are other recommendations by the publisher. You can find out about the different licensing policies on the journal’s or publisher’s websites. Note that once you have chosen a license you cannot change it in the very same version of the work.     


In Self-archival (the Tuhat-database, University of Helsinki Research Portal) you can choose the license for your articles and other research   documents in the archival form, part “Upload an electronic version > Access to electronic version > License (see the picture on the left).







Research data and Source Code

For sharing of research data The University of Helsinki recommends CC 0 license, where the author gives up all copyrights in order to advance open science. It has to be noted, however, that when material is used in research, the guidelines on good research practice should be followed, that is, the sources and authors should be named.

Sharing source code is a more complicated thing. It is recommended to read about different licenses used with source codes and make the choice of the suitable license for source code after this.  It is advisable to clear the ownership of the code from Research services or by contacting

Further Explanations and Recommendations

CC BY is the most popular license for open publishing. The license requires that others who use your work must give you credit the way you request, but they can share your work and modify it freely, eg. text can be translated. Nevertheless, all modifications must be indicated and there has to be a link or reference to the original work. The CC BY license enables maximum distribution, long-term preservation independent of publishers and utilization for digital research such as data mining. The use of the license is also recommended by the University of Helsinki Principles of Open Publishing and the consortium of research funders cOAlition S. CC BY is also used by many publishers, such as Springer. 

The purpose of the CC license is to tell other users what kind of usage is acceptable, given that the author still holds the copyright of the work. The license includes disclaimer of warranty and limitation of liability. This means that it is not allowed to use the work against those terms that the licensor has to be announced, and copyright law tells consequences, what misusing of works might cause. It is not necessary to have just one license for the whole work, eg. text and photos can be shared by different licenses but this has to be announced clearly.

CC BY-NC license is highly problematic, because it is difficult to determine commercial usage. For example, sharing a certain diagram from a certain work on a for-profit social media platform or repositories, such as and Research Gate, can be seen as commercial usage. It may also restrict research collaboration with companies and material can not be used in commercial studying programs. Therefore this license limits open publishing considerably both in commercial as well as non-commercial contexts. Consequently, using this license is not recommended.

See also

Sharing research data is a bit different from sharing publications, because the ownership has to be cleared before sharing, and subsequent use (such as data mining) is facilitated by a maximally open license. Therefore giving up the copyright (CC 0 license) is recommended for sharing research data and metadata. Previous versions (before 4.0) of the Creative Commons license are not recommended for sharing research data.

The Most Important CC licenses

Below are the most important Creative Commons licenses. Practical examples of their use can be found here in Creative Commons webpage.

 CC BY Attribution

The work can be copied, distributed, performed and modified freely, also for commercial purposes. The name of the author must always be mentioned properly and the name, photo or logo of the author cannot be changed and all changes have to be indicated. CC BY is the most popular license for open publishing and it is extremely effective in reaching a lot of readers or wider public. 

 CC BY-SA Attribution ShareAlike

The work can be copied, distributed, displayed, performed, and modified, as long it is distributed on the same terms. If the work is distributed or modified under other terms, permission for that must be obtained first. This license is common in joint productions, such as Wikipedia. It is recommended for teaching materials.

 CC BY-ND Attribution NoDerivatives

The work can be copied, distributed, displayed and performed, but the work cannot be modified in any way. Modifications of the work require a permission from the author/licensor. This license is often used for sharing works of art.

 CC BY-NC Attribution NonCommercial
The work can be copied, distributed, displayed, performed, and modified, but the work cannot be used commercially unless a permission is obtained from the author. It hasn’t been determined what commercial use is, so, the person using the works has to consider each case separately. For example, a work with this license cannot be shared in a commercial or advertise-funded blog, webpage or repository. CC BY-NC license is recommended only in special cases, such as when the probability of utilizing the work for commercial purposes is high and author wants to prevent this. 

 CC BY-NC-SA Attribution NoDerivatives NonCommercial

The work can be copied, distributed, displayed, performed, and modified only for non-commercial purposes, as long it is distributed on the same terms. This license is often used with learning materials (for example, in MIT Open CourseWare).

 CC BY-NC-ND Attribution NonCommercial NoDerivatives

The work can be copied, distributed, displayed and performed, but the work cannot be modified in any way. In addition, it cannot be used for commercial purposes. This license has often been used for works such as audio books, podcasts and works of art which are hoped to reach the widest possible distribution, but exactly in the same form as the original work. For example, TED Talks are licensed under the CC BY-NC-ND license.

 CC 0 Public Domain

The author waives all interests that may exist in his or her work worldwide (good scientific conduct presupposes attribution, however). Flickr image service, for example, uses this license and it is recommended for sharing research data and metadata to promote open science.    

Further information and sources

See also

For more information on the different CC-licenses
Guidance on choosing a CC-license
Creative Commons FAQ

ImagoOA - Open Sciece and images (Aalto University)
GNU licenses
How to license research data (Digital Curation Centre, DCC)

Research data - how to license? (OpenAIRE)


Principles of Open  Publishing, Decision of the Rector of the University of Helsinki 21 June 2017
Open Science in Finland
Creative Commons
Rehbinder, Maria & Pesola, Mari, Miten määrität aineistolle käyttöehdot – tutkimusaineistojen lisensiointi, webinar 16 May 2017, Aalto University
Tarmo Toikkanen ja Ville Oksanen: Opettajan tekijänoikeusopas. Finn Lectura, Helsinki 2011.

Open Access - service at HUlib

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