Open Access: License Guide

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

Open Access and Creative Commons licenses

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 remains with the author and credits must be given - only exception is CC0 license. By 2022, a CC licence is applied to all new research publications to provide open access and to protect researcher’s rights. (National Policy component for open access to journal and conference articles, 2020).

CC licenses can be used for publications, photos, metadata etc. For open software there are 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 or in some cases sharing data is not possible at all.


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.     

Read more: University of Helsinki FAQ about licenses and copyright


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 license which is open as possible. It has to be noted that when material is used in research, the guidelines on good research practice should be followed, which means that the sources and authors should be named.

There are several licenses for open source and software, e.g. MIT license and GNU General Public License. Before choosing the license, clear the legal issues related to the work and find out is there any possibility that your work could have commercial use. You can use Github’s tool to choose open source license and Open Source Initiative has listed useful information about open source licenses and differences between them. When developing software and software components for the UH, university primarily recommends an MIT licence for source code, unless there are valid reasons to choose another option. This recommendations doesn't cover research.

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 to the license and reference/linki to the original work. The CC BY license enables maximum distribution and long-term preservation independent of publishers. 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. The Research Council of Finland is part of cOAlitonS and it requires (since 2 November 2020 funded research) the use of Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) 4.0 for peer reviewed articles but deviations from this requirement is possible in expectional cases and for justified reasons:

There is no need to separately request permission from the Research Council of Finland for the use of the exceptional license, research projects can decide which license they use with publications. Horizon Europe programme requires that peer-reviewed scientific articles should be licensed under CC BY (or equivalent) license but it is allowed to publish longer texts (e.g. monographs) under CC BY-NC/ND license. Metadata related to these publications should be published under CC0 license.

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 been 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 commercial 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 Creative Commons wiki about defining noncommercial

Sharing research data is a bit different from sharing publications, because legal issues has to be cleared before sharing, and subsequent use 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-NonCommercial-ShareAlike)

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 teaching 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.

 CC0 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

Open Science at University of Helsinki - Research integrity - Principles of Open Publishing, Decision of the Rector of the University of Helsinki 21 June 2017

Open Science in Finland

Open Access services - Helsinki University Library:

Using CC licenses

Creative Commons

cOAlition S, PlanS - FAQ - Rights and licences

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

What to do if your CC-Licensed work is misused (Creative Commons)

ImagoOA - Open Science and images (Aalto University)

Tarmo Toikkanen ja Ville Oksanen: Opettajan tekijänoikeusopas. Finn Lectura, Helsinki 2011.


Research data and licensing

Research Data Management at University of Helsinki

Choose an open source license (Github)

How to license research data (Digital Curation Centre, DCC)

Licenses conformant with the principles set forth in the Open Definition (Open Knowledge Foundation)

Open Source Initiative - Licenses & Standards

Research data - how to license? (OpenAIRE)

Research Data Management: Open source software and code (Tampere University Library)

Open Access -service at HUlib

Questions about self-archiving or Open Access Publishing?
Feedback concerning this guide?

Send a message