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Open Licences

This blog post was originally published by Yiu-Shing Pang on LinkedIn in November 2022. It is reproduced here with permission.
  • Open licences can be complex, with their own nuances and potential limitations
  • Different companies use different licences - even intellectual property law firms and lawyers have varying opinions on which licence to apply
  • Common open licensing across the sector would make it simple and easy for those using data, increasing the value open data has to offer


UK Power Networks launched its Open Data Portal in October 2021, after our stakeholders told us they wanted better access to network and asset data. Since, we've seen a number of successful reuse cases of our open data, demonstrating the value that can be realised through open and shared data publication.

A fundamental component of open data publication is the licence used which ensures stakeholders are able to freely utilise the data. As the Open Data Manager at UK Power Networks, I've been on a journey to understand the open licence landscape and in this article I'll share my experiences and the insights I've gained along the way.

What is an Open Licence?

Wikipedia defines an open licence as:

A free licence or open licence allows others to reuse another creator's work as they wish. Without a special licence, these uses are normally prohibited or restricted by copyright, patent or commercial licence. Most free licences are worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, and perpetual.

To put it simply, for data to be truly open, it has to be licensed accordingly. An open licence sets out the rules of how it can be used and attributed. There are a number of open licences available – some are suited for creative works; some are for databases; and some are regional licences introduced by national governments. The nature and extent of restrictions often varies between these different licences, and selection and appropriate application must be carefully considered.

Meta data for the embedded capacity register
Embedded Capacity Register information page
Credit: UK Power Networks

To demonstrate open licensing in practice, let us consider the Embedded Capacity Register – a mandated standard report that all electricity Distribution Network Operators (DNO) are required to externally publish and update monthly. This requirement has existed since July 2020 but, despite being freely available and accessible, it did not originally have an open licence assigned to it. So, stakeholders and targeted end-users were technically not legally authorised to reuse and reshare the data. We've overcome this by applying an open licence, providing explicit terms that permits unrestricted use.

Realising the full potential value of data depends on the ability to layer and join datasets, deriving new information and meaningful, actionable insights. This is why clear, consistent and easily understandable guidance is so important. Anything that limits or slows access to, and use of data will simply delay and potentially prevent value realisation.

Open licences are legal documents which are inherently nuanced, often entailing limitations or pitfalls that are not always immediately clear. So you can see why I believe it's so important that anyone looking to use open licences is able to get expert support to ensure they fully understand and consider the suitability of one licence over another.

Our approach

With the Open Data Programme at UK Power Networks, we started by understanding the open licensing landscape, reaching out to and learning from leaders in the field including OpenDataSoft, the Open Data Institute and Open Innovations. Once we understood the options out there, we decided to use a Creative Commons licence – CC BY 4.0.This is used internationally by a variety of organisations in the open publication of their data including: Wikipedia; the Open Data Institute; and the World Bank.

All of our open data, accessible via our Open Data Portal, is now published under CC BY 4.0 licence. However, despite having undertaken significant research beforehand, we subsequently discovered that this form of open licence still limited reuse in certain circumstances.

Limitations & Compatibility

The limitations we have encountered with CC BY 4.0 relate to assignment of attribution (i.e. how you state where you got the original data from) and distribution (i.e. how you share the data).

This led us to explore other options, which has in turn highlighted further challenges relating to the compatibility of different licences, particularly the Open Government licence (OGL v3.0).

OGL v3.0 directly attempts to maintain compatibility with CC BY 4.0 through application of the following clause:

These terms are compatible with the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 and the Open Data Commons Attribution License, both of which license copyright and database rights. This means that when the Information is adapted and licensed under either of those licences, you automatically satisfy the conditions of the OGL when you comply with the other licence. The OGLv3.0 is Open Definition compliant.

However, OGL v3.0, in its unchanged form, contains a single clause which presents a point of incompatibility, making the associated dataset less open:

This licence is governed by the laws of the jurisdiction in which the Information Provider has its principal place of business, unless otherwise specified by the Information Provider.

We interpret this as meaning that we will refer to and use local law for settling disputes, which is problematic if these occur across international borders.

Having sought guidance from corporate lawyers, as a UK company, the preference is to operate within UK law due to familiarity with case law. This however creates at least one divergence from CC BY 4.0, and a point of licence incompatibility. OGL v3.0 adopters are also free to add clauses into their licences, compounding the issue. And it must be questioned why an organisation would create a limitation in aligning to UK law rather than aligning with the international community who predominately use Creative Commons.

Yet another complicating factor is that when adopted, OGL v3.0 has been renamed by organisations to reflect the organisation's name. This has the potential to confuse data users where it is unclear whether they are looking at different licences or the same licences with differing names.

All of the above issues risk generating undesirable data siloes and divergences which complicate and could stop datasets being combined. What we're looking for is a way to enable open data to be used easily without restrictions wherever possible. We identified two potential solutions:

  • Sign a waiver rescinding application of the "…prohibition on applying Technological Effective Measures (as defined in the license)," detailed in Section 2a5B of CC BY 4.0; or
  • Provide dual licencing, i.e. assigning both CC BY 4.0 and OGL licences, and allowing users to pick which licence to use the data under.

Weighing up these options, we consider the application of a waiver to be undesirable given it undermines the integrity of the licence. We also feel dual licensing is equally undesirable given the potential to contribute to a fractured licensing landscape, creating complexity when the objective is simplicity.

We believe that organisations first need to be clear in their objectives in openly publishing data – why are they publishing and what are they looking to achieve. The open licensing landscape also needs to be understood along with associated appropriate use and specific limitations – licensing needs to be carefully thought out to avoid legal pitfalls or clashes.

To remove barriers and make it as simple as possible for the end user, the energy networks need to come together to collectively address these issues, ideally aligning to a common, effective and proportionate open licensing framework.

The solution - the case for alignment

The benefits of everyone using one common licensing are obvious. In the absence of collaboration and alignment, it is likely that various open licences will be applied by different companies with differing terms and limitations, creating legal complexities that confuse and prevent use rather than facilitating it.

End users should not be expected to have to review a different set of terms and establish permitted use every time they access a different dataset, or equivalent datasets from different organisations. While a data user may be permitted to freely adapt and re-use the data in all instances, they are likely to need to understand the differences and nuances of each licence before they can do this. This issue is further compounded when others such as suppliers, generators, transmission operators and the Electricity System Operator (ESO) are included as data publishers.

Despite these obvious issues, there is currently no consistency in the licensing being applied by networks given the absence of any mandated standard or collaborative initiative.

Network and system operators are all in the early stages of their open energy data journey and having to consider the application of open licensing. So we have an opportunity to work together through forums like the Energy Networks Association to develop our collective understanding and aligning our approach in the interest of the end user.

We must come together and push for change if we are to make open data accessible, in turn giving key players the data they need and ultimately accelerate the transition to Net Zero. Until inconsistencies can be addressed and barriers removed, we cannot consider energy data to be truly open.

Concluding thoughts

Open data licensing is complex and I hope this post goes some way to help navigating the subject – both with respect to some of the pitfalls and the opportunities.

As stated in our Open Data Principles, UK Power Networks are committed to collaborating with peers across the sector, sharing our knowledge and experiences to contribute to the accelerated development of open energy data and digitalisation. Standardisation of open data licencing provides a prime example of where this approach is of utmost importance. Reach out to me via our mailbox: – let me know what you think.