Open Content Licenses


In addition to free and unrestricted access to digitally available scholarly information resources via the Internet, the possibility of extensive subsequent use of these resources is the second essential aspect of the Open Access concept.

According to the Berliner Erklärung über den offenen Zugang zu wissenschaftlichem Wissen open access thus also means permission to copy, use, distribute, transmit, and publicly reproduce these resources and their contents „in jedem beliebigen digitalen Medium und für jeden verantwortbaren Zweck – zu kopieren, zu nutzen, zu verbreiten, zu übertragen und öffentlich wiederzugeben sowie Bearbeitungen davon zu erstellen und zu verbreiten, sofern die Urheberschaft korrekt angegeben wird.“

Extensive reusability is regulated by a so-called open content license. In this case, the author or rights holder grants everyone, in the form of a standardized contract, increased, in some cases significantly expanded, subsequent usability of appropriately licensed works compared to copyright law. This can even include rights for commercial use. A simple, i.e. non-exclusive right of use is always transferred.

Important: Only the rights holder can be the licensor. This is usually the author, unless the author has transferred the corresponding rights exclusively (e.g. to another person, a publisher or an institution).

A resource published in open access without an open content license is freely accessible, but is subject to the respective copyright law and thus exclusively to the rights permitted there for subsequent use. In German law, this is governed by the so-called limitations of copyright law, which are set out in sections 44a to 63a of the German Copyright Act (UrhG) (e.g. the right to cite (section 51 UrhG), the right to reproduce for private and other personal use (section 53 UrhG), or the legally permitted uses for teaching, science and institutions (sections 60a to 60h)). In individual cases, it is always necessary to check which law applies, i.e. whether German or another law applies. In case of doubt, please contact the RWTH Department of Legal Affairs.

In the field of science, the so-called Creative Commons-Lizenzen (CC-Lizenzen) have become established worldwide. For Germany, the Digital Peer Publishing-Lizenzen (DPPL) are an alternative. Publishers sometimes also issue their own open content licenses.


Creative Commons-Licenses (CC-Licenses)

Creative Commons licenses are offered by Creative Commons (CC), a non-profit organization founded in 2001. They are the most widely used open content licenses in the world. From a portfolio of currently six modularly structured standardized license agreements, authors or rights holders can select a license agreement that suits them best and thus determine the extent to which they would like to grant further rights of use to their own content and which subsequent use options, if any, should remain excluded. The scope of the rights of use granted varies depending on the license.

The current version of the licenses is the international version 4.0, which is also available in German translation.

  Licence 4.0

Attribution 4.0 International

  CC Licence NC

Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International

  CC Lizenz ND

Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

  Lizenz 4.0 SA

Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

  Lizenz NC ND

Attribution-NonCommercial-NonDerivatives 4.0 International

  Lizenz nc-sa

Attribution-NonCommercia-ShareAlike 4.0 International


The CC BY and CC BY-SA type licenses allow the widest reuse of copyrighted works and are thus the most in line with the Open Access concept of the six licenses.

Please note: Version 4 has not yet been adapted (ported) to German copyright law. The situation is different with the previous version. Therefore, if a CC license adapted to German law is to be issued, a license type of version 3 Germany should be selected (e.g. Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)).

  Lizenz zero

In addition to the six standard licenses mentioned, there is another CC license, the so-called CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0). The person who has linked a work with this license has made this work available in the public domain. In this case, all copyright and related rights are waived worldwide, if nothing contradicts this by law.

This license is often used for the field of research data. The background to this is that many research data (e.g. measurement data) do not fall under copyright protection (see information sheet Copyright Protection of Research Data), which is, however, a prerequisite for the granting of a license.

In Germany (but also in other countries such as Austria), however, this license is not legally unproblematic. The copyright cannot be waived here and a transfer is also excluded (only the rights of use are transferable). For this reason, two additional regulations were implemented in the license (cf. Kreuzer 2016, p. 34 for more information).

[Label] Public Domain Mark: For works that are in the public domain - for example, because copyright protection has expired or never existed - Creative Commons also provides the adjacent label for identification.

More information about Creative Commons and the different license types/contracts:


Digitial Peer Publishing-License

The Digitial Peer Publishing licenses are open content licenses developed and provided as part of the DiPP (Digital Peer Publishing) offering of the University Library Center Cologne (HBZ). It can nevertheless be used by anyone. In the current version 3, the author or rights holder can choose between three different modular standardized license agreements. The scope of the rights of use granted varies depending on the license:

DPPL – Digital Peer Publishing License (v3, de) (Basic):

m-DPPL – Modulare Digital Peer Publishing License (v3, de):

f-DPPL – Freie Digital Peer Publishing License (v3, de):

Further information about DPPL-License:



Please note: All information is without guarantee. The above statements are expressly not legal advice, but serve only as general, but not legally binding information. Legal advice should definitely be sought in the event of legal questions relating to the complex of topics dealt with here. We recommend contacting the RWTH departement of Legal Affairs

Literature reference:
Kreutzer, T. (2016): Open Content – Ein Praxisleitfaden zur Nutzung von Creative-Commons-Lizenzen. 2. Aufl. Bonn: Deutsche UNESCO-Kommission e.V. (link last checked 21.07.2022).