Simplifying the UK open data licensing landscape

Originally published on the Open Data Institute blog. Original url:

The Ordnance Survey has adopted the Open Government Licence (OGL) as the default licence for all of its open data products. This is great news for the open data community as it simplifies licensing around many important UK open datasets. It’s also an opportunity for other data publishers to reflect on their own approach to data licensing.

The original “OS Open Data licence” was based on a customised version of the first version of the OGL. Unfortunately these changes left the open data community in some doubt about how the new clauses were to be interpreted. For example, the Open Street Map community decided that the terms were incompatible with the Open Database Licence, requiring them to seek explicit permission to use the open data. These are exactly the problems that standard open licences are meant to avoid.

By switching licence the Ordnance Survey has not only resolved outstanding confusion but has also ensured that its data can be freely and easily mixed with other UK Government sources. The knock-on effects will also simplify the licensing of local government data released under the Public Sector Mapping Agreement. The result is a much clearer and simpler open data landscape in the UK.

At the ODI we’ve previously highlighted our concerns around the proliferation of open government licences. Many of these licences have taken a similar approach to the OS Open Data licence and are derived from earlier versions of the OGL.

We think this is a good time for all data publishers to consider their licensing choices:

  • If your custom licence is derived from the OGL then consider adopting the original version unchanged.
  • If you’re using a bespoke licence then consider how adopting a standard licence such as the OGL or the Creative Commons Attribution licence could benefit potential reusers.

For more information you can browse our guidance on open data licensing and our draft guidance on problematic licensing terms.

Ultimately, the simplification of the open data licensing landscape benefits everyone and we ask other publishers to follow the Ordnance Survey’s lead.