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Foundation Funding: Open Licenses, Greater Impact

Foundation Funding: Open Licenses, Greater Impact


Note: This is an updated version of the August 2009 report "An Evaluation of Private Foundation Copyright Licensing Policies, Practices and Opportunities"

Private foundations support the creation of a wide range of work products, ranging from books, articles, reports, and research summaries to educational materials and textbooks to photographs, works of visual art, films, videos, and musical compositions and recordings to software code, computer programs and technical systems to many, many others. To achieve the most impact and the greatest good with the money they invest, foundations seek to ensure the broadest dissemination and greatest, most productive and innovative use, reuse and redistribution of the many works they support.

Virtually all foundation-funded expressive works are protected by copyright. Under traditional approaches to copyright licensing, for these works to fulfill the purposes for which the foundations funded them, the copyright owner (usually the foundation’s grantee) must give permission, or a “license,” for others to copy, publish, redistribute, remix or otherwise reuse the works Alternative licensing approaches, on the other hand, such as “open” licenses like Creative Commons (CC) or the General Public License (GPL), enable the copyright owner to grant up-front, blanket permission for a wide range of uses, eliminating the time, cost and inefficiency of users having to first ask for permission and pay licensing fees before making use of the work.

As a result, open licenses free up the works they cover for immediate and wide use, sharing, redistribution and sometimes remixing or repurposing. They permit knowledge and learning to be widely disseminated and more readily adapted, improved or built upon, and allow those later improvements to be easily distributed and shared as well. This can mean dramatically greater and faster access to research, information, technologies and other resources, advancing foundations’ core missions and enhancing the public good. Potential users anywhere are then free to take the work and immediately use it without cost in all of those ways permitted by the open license.

Although open licenses are relatively new, they have gained rapid and widespread acceptance as a powerful and effective way to disseminate all manner of copyrighted works.  Increasingly, charitable foundations and government funders have begun to recommend or even require the use of such licenses as a means of increasing the reach and impact of the work they fund.

This work is supported in part by the Ford Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.