Data Licensing

Data Licensing Guidelines

TERN encourages the sharing of data and knowledge for the long-term benefit of the research community. Data sharing should only occur within a framework where data contributors receive appropriate recognition for their work, and where data users understand, in advance, the responsibilities placed upon them when they access and/or use another’s data.

To ensure these underlying conditions for data sharing are met TERN has developed a Data Licensing Policy.

The fundamental principle behind the policy is to make the data as openly accessible as possible noting that data users will be required to attribute the source of the data and sensitive data will be protected according to the legislative requirements.

TERN Data Licences

As of October 2015, TERN has adopted the Creative Commons 4.0 international suite of licences to licence all materials including material subject to copyright.

TERN strongly recommends the use of the least restrictive licence possible, which provides attribution to the data creators. Hence, TERN uses the Creative Commons – Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) as a default data licence. The following diagram represents the application of the TERN Data Licensing Policy.

Data Licensing Flowchart | Featured Image for Data Licensing Page by TERN.

TERN Data Provider's Deed

The TERN Data Provider’s Deed is a formal agreement between TERN, its platforms, and anyone providing data to a TERN data portal.

The Agreement ensures that both the data provider and subsequent users have a clear understanding of the basis upon which data have been provided, and upon which TERN can hold, use and disseminate.

Suite of TERN Licences

TERN’s suite of data licences is decommissioned and will not be used as of October 2015 to licence any materials.

However, the licences will be supported for all the materials already using the TERN suite of licences. The terms of use and the licence deed will be maintained and supported. Following are the information about the TERN suite of licences.

TERN’s suite of data licences cover all licensed materials including material subject to copyright. The TERN suite of licences are based on the Creative Commons Australia v3.0 licences, but have been modified to protect those items of research data which may not be subject to copyright.

1. TERN Attribution Licence (TERN BY)

Attribution applies to every TERN licence. Whenever a work is copied or redistributed under a TERN licence, the original creator and any other nominated parties must be credited and the source linked to.

The TERN Attribution Licence (TERN BY) lets others distribute, remix, and build upon a work, even commercially, provided that they credit the original source and any other nominated parties. This is the most accommodating of the licences in terms of what others can do with their work.

2. TERN Attribution-Share Alike Licence (TERN BY-SA)

This data licence lets others distribute, remix and build upon the work, even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit the original creator/s (and any other nominated parties) and licence any new creations based on the work under the same terms. All new derivative works will carry the same licence, so will also allow commercial use.

Simply put – you agree to share your materials with others, if they will share their new works in return. This licence is often compared to the free software licences, known as ‘copyleft’.

3. TERN Attribution-No Derivatives Licence (TERN BY-ND)

This data licence allows others to distribute the work, even for commercial purposes, as long as the work is unchanged and the original creator/s and any other nominated parties are credited. Other can distribute and perform only verbatim copies of the work, they may not adapt or change the work in any way.

4. TERN Attribution-Share Alike-Non commercial Licence (TERN BY-SA-NC)

This data licence lets others distribute, remix and build upon the work, but only if: (1) it is for non-commercial purposes, (2) they credit the original creator/s and any other nominated parties, and (3) they licence their derivative works under the same terms.

Data Licensing FAQ


Why is a licence needed to make data available?

Data is material that is owned by the owner. In order for a third party (someone else) to use the material, the owner needs to grant permission. This permission is called a licence. In order to make it clear what material is covered by the permission and whether there are any limits on the permission, it is advisable to adopt formal permission in the form of a licence contract.

Why does TERN promote open access licences?

The Australian Government is moving towards a more open structure which includes open access to information as part of its transparency and good government policies. As part of this commitment, the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) has made a condition of its grants to TERN an obligation to make data as freely available as possible and appropriate. Information on the Australian Government’s Declaration of Open Government can be found here.

The Australian Research Council has also announced its open access policy, effective from 1 January 2013, which is available here. The open access policy states that in order to obtain the maximum benefit from research, research publications must be disseminated as widely as possible. While this statement applies only to research publications, it is consistent with the broader goals of the Australian government and with TERN.

TERN is an NCRIS-enabled national research infrastructure designed to serve ecosystem research in Australia. It builds on significant past investments by scientists and governments to understand Australian ecosystems. TERN provides secure storage to help integrate and share data, information and knowledge through a number of terrestrial ecosystem science and observational platforms.

Part of TERN’s mission is to build the relationships and infrastructure that will enable sustained, long-term collection, storage and sharing of ecosystem data to meet terrestrial ecosystem science and natural resource management needs in Australia.

Part of that infrastructure is the legal infrastructure necessary to connect data rights holders and data users in a way that enables the most effective sharing of information. To this end, TERN promotes open access licences to enable sharing of data to the largest number of users with the least possible restrictions on the use of the data.

Open access can also assist in broader aims of personal or institutional data management, providing a long term storage vehicle to prevent data loss and minimising requirements to repeat initial and expensive (in terms of time and money) data collection processes. It can also help individuals meet publisher and funder requirements of making underlying data available as a condition of publication of an academic paper.

If I want to grant an open licence why is a formal licence necessary?

A licence is a contract between the owner and the user. It does not matter whether the owner imposes onerous conditions or no conditions – it is still a contractual relationship. An open licence is still a contractual licence however informally it is presented.

A formal licence is also a good data management tool by ensuring that specific issues relating to the management of data are addressed. If a data provider wishes to be attributed, then this is included in the licence. If there are other conditions, then constructing the licence an opportunity to think through the requirements and to ensure that such conditions are present.

Can I rely on a statutory licence (e.g. under the Copyright Act 1968 (Commonwealth))?

Yes you can – provided that the material you intend to licence is covered by copyright. If it is not, then releasing it in such a manner means that it is released without any licence terms at all.

Who is the licensor and who is the licensee?

The licensor is the person or entity that owns the data (or has the rights to grant a licence) for a third party to use the data. The licensee is the person using the data.  The licensor selects the licence; the licensee (user) acknowledges the licence, agrees to its terms and complies with the licence conditions (including acknowledging the source of the data) when accessing and using the data.

Restricted access

Does the TERN Data Licensing Policy allow for delayed release of data or restricted access to data while a student completes their PhD?

Yes.  The TERN Data Licensing Policy does not require real-time data delivery.  If circumstances require that data be withheld for a reasonable period of time, this is permitted. However, it is generally not good practise to make restricted access or delayed release the default position as the specific reasons for the delay or restriction should be consider on a case by case basis. This includes delays relating to quality assurance processes.

When considering whether restricted access is appropriate, thought should also be given to whether metadata can be released ahead of the underlying data. It may be appropriate to release metadata while the underlying data is still being prepared (including undergoing quality control processes).

There are very few circumstances where such an approach is appropriate if the objective is for open access to data.

Can data be restricted or its full release be delayed for some purposes and not for other purposes?

Yes. Metadata can include information that certain data is being withheld for a specified period of time and for a specified purpose but if a person desires access in the meantime, they may contact the data manager responsible for the data. The primary aim of such a position is to allow for the completion of a thesis or paper for which the data was initially collected. There are very few circumstances where such an approach is appropriate if the objective is for open access to data.


Who is the owner of data?

The answer depends on the relationships between the various parties involved. Where the Principal Investigator (PI) is self-funded and self-employed, then the PI owns the data (unless a contractual arrangement such as a funding agreement, changes the ownership). Where the PI is employed and collects the data as part of the PI’s job description, then unless there is another arrangement in place, the owner is the PI’s employer. If a third party is funding the collection, then the third party may also have shared rights or exclusive rights. The addition of research assistants, collaborative arrangements between institutions and students can complicate the picture further.

Can I submit data to TERN?

TERN is able to accept any terrestrial ecosystem data from any person entitled to provide it for open access release.

In general, data collected under TERN funding must be freely and openly available and should be submitted to TERN. If you have the rights to grant a licence over ‘non-TERN’ data then you can submit that data to TERN. If you do not have the rights to grant a licence, then you need permission from the person/entity that does.  Rights to grant a licence reside with the owner of data or with a licensee with permission to sub-licence the data.

If you are in doubt as to whether you have the right to grant a licence over data for submission, then you should obtain legal advice (whether independently or from your organisation’s legal officers).

TERN encourages the attribution of all data sets where appropriate. Submitters are able to nominate how they would prefer to be attributed.


What is copyright?

Copyright is a statutory right created by the Copyright Act 1968 (Commonwealth). It recognises creative intellectual endeavour by authors and artists and rewards such endeavour by granting exclusive rights to use and exploit the outcome of the endeavour.

Copyright protects, amongst other things, literary works, computer programs, artistic works, photographs, statues, models, sketches, published editions (including journals and newspapers), sheet music, films and sound recordings. It protects the expression of an idea but not the idea itself.

Copyright vests in a natural person who creates the copyright works. Where that person is creating the rights in the course of employment, the copyright often vests in the employer. Where there is no natural person to whom creation of the copyright work can be attributed, copyright will not subsist.

What is a statutory licence of copyright?

A statutory licence is a licence created under the terms of the relevant statute. In this instance, the Copyright Act 1968 sets out the statutory rights and rules which govern copyright and provides for a means of granting permission to exploit those rights. One means of exploiting copyright is under the auspices of a formal licence (contract). However, the Copyright Act provides that a formal licence is not necessary provided that the grant of the licence meets the conditions in the Act.

More information on copyright is available at:

Licence conditions/licence type

Who chooses the type of licence?

The data owner or licensee who has rights to sub-licence the data (make the data available to third parties) chooses the licence type (and hence the licence conditions) when making the data available.

What is the difference between a TERN licence and a Creative Commons Australia licence?

A TERN licence is tailored to cover data and data sets.  It is not limited to copyright material. A Creative Commons Australia licence covers only material which is subject to copyright. The new release of international Creative Commons licences which recognises database rights is applicable only in the European Union. Database rights are not currently recognised as a category of material receiving copyright protection in Australia.

If you are in doubt as to whether your data is subject to copyright, or which licence is most appropriate for your purposes, you should obtain your own legal advice (whether independently or from your organisation’s legal officers).

More information about Creative Commons is available at or

What is the difference between the licence conditions?

An Attribution-only (“BY”) licence has as its only condition an obligation to acknowledge the source of the data when using it.

An Attribution-Share-Alike (“BY-SA”) licence also requires attribution but also requires users to make their own work available to others on terms which are no less open (that is, if you want to take advantage of a person’s data, then you need to make your version of it available to others so that you are not in effect appropriating it).

An Attribution-No-Derivatives (“BY-ND”) licence requires attribution and prohibits a user making any derivatives of the original data product (that is, you can use it but you cannot change it in any way).

Can I use a TERN licence if the data is not TERN data?

A TERN licence can be used with data from any source; the important point is to ensure the data rights holder has selected the licence.

There is no financial cost to a data rights holder to apply a TERN licence to data.

Who needs to be attributed by a user?

The metadata attached to a data set should identify the person or organisation to be attributed and the form the attribution should take.

Where such information is not available, a general best practice citation is appropriate. Such a citation may look like this:

Authors (PublicationYear): Title. Version. Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN). (Dataset). Identifier.

How is a licence enforced?

It is the responsibility of the data rights holder granting the licence to enforce the licence, should the need arise. TERN is only acting as a hub or hosting centre for the data.

TERN may be able to assist a data rights holder to find out how to contact a person who is suspected of breaching data licence conditions, depending on the information collected by TERN about users.

TERN also has a role in community education about licences and their use; reporting by data rights owners to TERN about problems experienced by the data rights owners will help TERN to target its community education strategies to minimise this activity.

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