Copyright & Licences

Research Data and licensing

The Swiss fedral Act on Copyright (CopA) protects a work if it is a creation of the mind (the result of human activity) that has an individual character (someone else doing the same task will not be able to produce the same work). Photographs have a special status since the last revision of the Swiss copyright law. It is not necessary for them to have an individual character to be protected (art 2 al. 3bis CopA).

For research data, this means that (Hirschmann 2020):

  • raw or primary scientific data, e.g., unprocessed data", or data harvested by machines, are generally not protected by copyright;
  • processed or enriched data that meet the criteria of a creation of the mind, e.g., graphics, text, or images that have some originality, are generally protected by copyright.

It should also be noted that research data produced by the University's collaborators in the course of their duties are the property of the institution (Loi sur l’Université, article 15).


A license is a contract in which the author specifies the terms of use of his or her work and grants non-exclusive rights of use, while retaining his or her prerogatives as author. This includes, for example, granting rights to distribute, reproduce or modify the work. When you share your research data, it is preferable to assign a license to allow their reuse and thus contribute to the dissemination of scientific knowledge. This allows people who access the data to be immediately clear about what they are allowed (or not) to do with it. The absence of a license means that all rights are reserved and that reuse is only possible if an authorization is obtained from the author, or if a legal exception to copyright authorizes it (e.g. quotation of excerpts, use for educational purposes, etc.).

Please note: only works protected by copyright may be made available under license, and only by the author or the owner of the rights. At the University of Geneva, although the institution is the owner of the research data, the choice of license is left to the researcher because he or she knows the data best.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons (CC) licenses are widely used and recognized in the scientific world.

For research data, the license that is recommended is the CC0 license. When you choose it, you remove all barriers to reuse and place your work in the public domain. Although the CC0 license does not legally require you to be cited as the creator of the data, not doing so would be a breach of scientific integrity.

The other CC licenses are composed of 4 elements that can be combined:

cc_by.png BY (Attribution)

The author of the work must be cited and the changes made from the original work in the derivative work must be indicated.

cc_sa.pngSA (ShareAlike)

Derivative works must be released under the same license.

cc_nc.pngNC (NonCommercial)

Only non-commercial exploitation of the work is permitted.

cc_nd.pngND (NoDerivatives)

Modifications or adaptations of the work are not permitted.


Details of these licenses and the obligations and prohibitions associated with each are listed in a summary table. Creative Commons also provides a guide to using their licenses with data and databases.

Since CC licenses are only suitable for data or datasets that are copyrightable works (creations of the mind with an individual character), if the data does not meet these criteria (for example, if it is too factual or created by machines), then the CC0 license is the only option.

In addition, it is generally recommended to avoid licenses that include the NC (no commercial use) or ND (no modification) elements because these restrictive licenses hinder interoperability and reuse of the data. This has a direct impact on the advancement of knowledge and the emergence of new scientific knowledge.

Licenses for computer code

Creative Commons licenses are not suitable for computer code.

Instead, Creative Commons recommends looking at "licenses listed as free by the Free Software Foundation and listed as "open source" by the Open Source Initiative."

CCdigitallaw explains what these free and open source software licenses are, and the EPFL Library details some that are recommended. The Software Licenses in Plain English website is also a useful resource that summarizes popular licenses for code.