The University Library does not offer legal consultation on open access and copyright issues, but merely provides nonbinding information and assistance in understanding the legal aspects of open access. The information is supplied without liability.

In the case of open access publications, licences are generally applied in order to extent the use of the publications beyond the framework set by copyright law and thus to enable a wider dissemination of the publications. So-called open content licences have become established. These can be used free of charge and come in the form of standardised legal texts with a contractual quality. They enable international applicability and eliminate the need for potential users to make individual enquiries with the authors or rights holders of a work.

In particular the Creative Commons licences and the Digital Peer Publishing Licences have become established. Both allow licensing that enables extensive use and re-use (as usually intended with open access), however, both also offer licences that limit the use of works to a greater extent and which cannot be considered open access in the narrower sense. A special feature of the Digital Peer Publishing licences is that they have been designed for electronic text works. Creative Commons licences, on the other hand, can be used for all types of works and are most commonly used for open access, including for a large part of the publications on the repository of Humboldt Universität (edoc-Server).

Creative Commons Licences

Creative Commons licences (CC licences) are standard licence agreements that enable authors to easily grant the public rights to use their works, thus creating free content. They were created and are made available by Creative Commons, a non-profit organisation. The licences are available in three forms: as a summary in plain language readable by laypersons, as the full legal text, and as a machine-readable version.

The licences

The CC licences are designed along the following questions:

  • Should it be mandatory to name the author?
  • Should commercial use be allowed?
  • Should others be allowed to remix, adapt, or build upon the work?
    • if so: Should derivative works only be allowed to be published under the same licence?

According to these questions, six licences are available.

Shorthand Licence conditions Current version
CC BY Attribution CC BY 4.0
CC BY-SA Attribution, Share Alike CC BY-SA 4.0
CC BY-ND Attribution, No Derivatives CC BY-ND 4.0
CC BY-NC Attribution, Non-Commercial CC BY-NC 4.0
CC BY-NC-SA Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
CC BY-NC-ND Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivatives CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
Illustration der Open-Access-Konformität der Creative-Commons-Lizenzen von „sehr offen“ (oben) bis „wenig offen“ (unten)

Figure: this is a modified version of the template of the Technische Universität Berlin, according to the license CC BY 4.0

The six licences are currently available in the internationally valid version 4.0. In addition, they are also offered in older versions that are still valid for certain national jurisdictions (including Germany).

In addition, the licence CC0 is offered and is intended to correspond to the waiving of all rights to a work worldwide under copyright law and thus the release of a work into the public domain (see CC0 1.0).

Recommendation and instructions for use

It is recommended to use the licence CC BY. This licence is most compliant with the principles of open access and enables high visibility and academic reception as well as broad use. Its only requirement for re-use is attribution, which is regarded a standard in academia through citation anyway. The use of this licence is one of the guidelines of the open access policy of Humboldt-Universität.

The licences with the NC module to exclude commercial use and the ND module to exclude adaptations are generally not considered compatible per se with open and free works and are therefore usually not recommended for open access and are sometimes excluded in the context of funding. The NC module in particular poses major problems and risks in and for the science and education sector; it can even exclude the use of works licensed in this way in parts of the science and education sector. For more on this, see the further information linked below.

If there is a concern about the commercial sale of one's own works by unauthorised third parties when using the CC BY licence, the CC BY-SA licence should be considered first. It ensures that derivatives of the work or new works based on the work or parts of the work may only be distributed under the same licence, which virtually rules out commercial sale.

More information

Digital Peer Publishing Licences

The Digital Peer Publishing Licences (DPPL) are standard licence agreements that enable authors to easily grant the public rights to use their text works. They were developed based on German law and with funding from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Licence types

The base module (Basismodul) of the DPPL permits the reading and unaltered electronic distribution as well as making the work publicly available in electronic form. No distinction is made between commercial and non-commercial use, but the rights for use in print or on carrier media remain with the authors.

There are also two extension levels (Ausbaustufen) of the base module of the DPPL that allow adaptations of the work. By means of the 'modular DPPL', individual parts of the work can be approved for adaptations, and by means of the 'free DPPL', adaptations of the entire work can be permitted.

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