Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Date of this Version


Document Type



Association of Research Libraries, Issue Brief: Metadata and Copyright—August 2017


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Institutions have a number of options for how to treat metadata while encouraging widespread use and sharing. Some institutions may determine that no license is necessary to openly share metadata, taking the position that the metadata they produce is not copyrightable. Others might share it using a CC0 license or CC0 with additional guidelines. In determining how to share metadata, institutions should consider possible cross-border implications as well as the potential that what is defined as metadata could grow in breadth and raise additional copyright concerns. Additionally, institutions should take into account the benefit that clear and easy-to-understand policies provide to users. Those wishing to rely on metadata in institutional databases often desire certainty about their uses and reuses, including whether use of the data across borders is permitted. Although metadata is arguably not subject to copyright in the United States, to facilitate the use of metadata across borders and avoid later arguments or confusion, some institutions make their metadata available under a CC0 license. They have adopted a simple policy statement noting that, to the extent that there may be copyrightable expression in the metadata, that copyright is being made fully available through a CC0 grant. Such a statement acknowledges that there may not be any copyright protection in the metadata while simultaneously ensuring that any doubt is removed over whether such metadata may be shared or reused, particularly because the existence of a large number of institutional policies relying on a CC0 grant for metadata may cause some users to seek guidance under which the metadata may be used and shared. For those institutions seeking to license metadata, CC0 is a well-known license that is designed to be recognized and useable in almost all countries around the world and may therefore be preferred over general statements of public domain dedication or the use of other licenses.