The iati licensing Standard Background

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The IATI Licensing Standard


The success of IATI is dependent on intermediaries making information accessible for different stakeholders by taking the information published for the IATI information providers and using it to produce databases, tools, applications, and analysis for newspaper articles or radio programmes, etc. It is envisaged that these intermediaries would range from partner country governments, CSOs in the north and south, community groups, parliamentarians, journalists, individuals, researchers.

To enable this ecosystem of different ways of accessing information, intermediaries must be given legal permission to use it. This can be done on a case-by-case basis, where each time someone wants to use the information they must ask for a license from the copyright owner, or a license can be issued up front that states the terms for using the information. For practical reasons, as well as to encourage the use of the information, it has been agreed that IATI will seek to proactively license the information. In addition, in the case of IATI, where information is provided by multiple sources it is particularly important that the licenses used are compatible with each other.

In parallel with the IATI process, there is a movement towards open government and open data movements within international organisations. There are strong links between the goals of these initiatives and IATI, and the principles of open data (as defined by the open knowledge definition1) are a key element for all of them. For data and databases, to be “open” means that users have the ability to:

  1. combine (mash up) datasets from different providers;

  2. add additional data and select which data records to include or exclude in derived works;

  3. change the organisation of the data (its schema) and change the database to a different format;

  4. copy and distribute the information.

The TAG secretariat, in collaboration with a small group chaired by the World Bank and including an open data/intellectual property lawyer, produced a set of recommendations for licensing. The IATI Licensing Standard, agreed in February 2011 at a meeting of signatories and the IATI Steering Committee, is that information published through the IATI standard should be licensed under an open license. It is a set of principles that must be adhered to, rather than a prescriptive set of terms and conditions.

Open Aid Information Licensing Standard

This Open Aid Information (OAI) Licensing Standard helps encourage the use and reuse of aid information to help provide better, and more effective, aid to those who receive it. The OAI Licensing Standard is the result of work by the IATI Secretariat in collaboration with governments, NGOs, international organisations, lawyers, and open knowledge experts from around the world. This OAI Licensing Standard is deliberately worded in sufficiently general terms that it could be used for any type of aid-related information, not just for information published to the IATI Standard.

Summary of the standard

Open Aid Information compliant with this Standard

  • must be public domain or licensed under an attribution-only open license (the “legal tools”) [Element 1];

  • the legal tools used must be appropriate for data [Element 3];

  • Intellectual Property (IP) Policies related to the Open Aid Information must be in plain language and easily accessible to users [Element 4].

This Standard strongly recommends that Open Aid Information:

  • Should use a recognised and established open public license appropriate for databases [Element 2];

  • Should include FAQs and licensing help by the aid information publishers whenever possible [Element 5].

What is open aid information?

This standard concerns open aid information. But what is open aid information?

  • By open we mean open as in the Open (Knowledge) Definition — in essence information (data and documents) is open if it can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone.

  • By aid information we mean data and information on aid flows by both official and private providers of development assistance (inc. NGOs and Foundations)

Element 1: Aid information must be published under public domain waivers or attribution-only open licenses as defined by the OpenKnowledgeDefinition.

The goal is for aid information to be effectively used and added to by others as widely as possible. Therefore the use of licenses which limit commercial re-use or limit the production of derivative works by excluding use for particular purposes or by specific persons or organisations is discouraged. These restrictive licenses make it impossible to effectively integrate and re-purpose datasets and prevent commercial activities that could be used to support preservation and innovation with aid information. As a result, we have selected the OpenKnowledgeDefinition as our standard for openness for aid information as it provides for a stable, accepted, legal standard of openness used in multiple fields.

Further, we want to make aid information as widely usable as possible, even within the context of the Open Knowledge Definition (OKD). Therefore we limit OKD-compliant licenses to those that place aid information into the public domain (also known as dedications or waivers [2]) and those that (at most) require attribution of source. Share-alike clauses [1] for aid information are specifically prohibited under this Standard, as they can cause “license silos” by preventing legal interoperability even between other openly licensed material -- because they require the use of only that share-alike license.

We therefore recommend and limit open aid information compliant with this Standard as:

  1. Public domain - no copyright, database rights, or contractual rights over the open aid information. [3] Examples include Creative Commons’ CC0 tool and the Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication and License (PDDL); OR

  2. Attribution-only open licenses - licenses that allow for use and reuse, with the only restriction being that attribution (credit) be given. Examples include the Creative Commons Attribution licenses (CC-BY) and the Open Data Commons Attribution License.

Public domain approaches are preferred for aid information.

We strongly recommend that aid information, especially where the result of public funding, be explicitly placed in the public domain. This is to better serve democracy, transparency, and greater public participation. We understand that this is not always possible or preferable for publishers, and thus an open license requiring only attribution to the source is provided as an alternative.

Publishing aid information in the public domain complies with related open data initiatives, including the PantonPrinciples, and the Science Commons ProtocolforImplementingOpenAccessData. Public domain still means that in many academic disciplines and in other contexts that users will voluntarily follow established social norms of citation and attribution. Social and academic norms can still apply.


This standard applies to aid information, and so does allow for some restrictions, such as for non-aid information and for technical reasons, such as:

  • Technical restrictions on use of web services (such as limiting the number of calls per hour via an API).

  • Any type of disclaimer of warranties.

  • “No endorsement” language and separate (non-open) policies for any trademarks or reserved symbols.

[1] Also known as copyleft or reciprocal licensing clauses. Share Alike licenses do comply with the Open Knowledge Definition, but as noted would not comply with this standard.

[2] Copyright vests automatically, and so giving up rights over a work in copyright before they expire (due to end of the term) requires a special tool known as a dedication to the public domain or a waiver of rights. Licenses in this context depend on an underlying copyright to function.

[3] Databases compatible with the ScienceCommonsProtocolforImplementingOpenAccessData and the PantonPrincipleswill fulfil this requirement.

Licenses: Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication and License (PDDL); Creative Commons CC0 tool or Public Domain certification; Open Data Commons Attribution License (ODC-BY); Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY)


Element 2: Aid information publishers should use recognised public domain waivers or open licenses.

Making use of recognised open licenses and waivers (together, “legal tools”) helps encourage the greatest use and reuse of aid information by tapping into already existing online communities built around these legal tools. [4] This greatly helps use and reuse as recipients of open aid information don’t have to continually learn new legal terms -- they can learn how one legal tool works and apply it across multiple sources of open aid information.

In economic terms, using an established and widely used open license or waiver lowers the transaction costs for users of aid information and by doing so can increase uptake by the community and increase understanding and therefore compliance with the licenses. For aid information publishers, using an established legal tool means not having to hire lawyers to draft, maintain, and update a specialist legal document.

In simple terms, using recognised tools makes it easier on everyone, including both publishers and users.

[4] Providers of open licenses with recognised communities are often referred to as “Public licensing bodies”. For more information, see


Element 3: The legal tools used must be appropriate for data.

Aid information published under this initiative will often be data and databases. Many widely recognised licenses are not intended for, and are not appropriate for, data or collections of data (databases). We recommend using legal tools specifically tailored for data for the publication of aid information. The two key elements:

  • Legal - the legal tool must clearly cover the rights over data -- including copyright, database rights, and contract -- while taking into account the global networked environment and the many different legal jurisdictions involved. Many content or software licenses don’t include database rights, for example.

  • Practical - particularly for open licenses requiring attribution, the legal tools must take into account the practical questions that often come up in a database environment in complying with the license terms, such as how and when to attribute the source.

If a legal tool meets these two elements, generally it can be safe for use for aid information compliant with this standard.


Element 4: IP Policies related to aid information must be in plain language and easily accessible to users.

Publishers should make use of plain language and should highlight their IP policies to users accessing aid information in order to make it as easy as possible for users to access, read, and understand the rights that they have to use, reuse, and redistribute the aid information.


Element 5: Publishers should include FAQs and licensing help whenever possible.

In order to further help facilitate understanding of their rights and obligations under the license, publishers and IATI itself should publish detailed FAQs and related licensing help resources. As part of the work behind this Standard, IATI will build the materials and resources available to both publishers and users to learn more about Open Aid Information.


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