NY State’s Open NY Dips Toe Into Creative Commons Licensing


Reinvent Albany has worked hard to get NY State and NYC government to open up their data for public use. We think opening government data is one of the most promising new ways to open up government generally and increase accountability to the public. Open data is a new concept and the specifics of how to get government data online in a useful form can get very technical. That said, we think it is important to share the highs and lows of making open data work in the real world.

We are frequently quoted making critical comments about Governor Cuomo’s administration, and his penchant for secrecy and undermining and avoiding public oversight and transparency. That said, we have been impressed by the solid progress being made by Cuomo’s open data initiative “Open NY” which he created via executive order in 2013.

Earlier this summer, the Open NY team at NYS ITS released the Dataset Submission Guidelines, a thirty-three page manual for agencies publishing open data. While we have always appreciated the “quality over quantity” approach to data sets at New York State’s open data portal, one of our favorite parts of the Guidelines is the way it was published; the entire manual is published under a Creative Commons license. Creative Commons (CC) licenses are a set of standardized copyright licenses, and New York State has selected one of the most permissive CC licenses to publish its Guidelines.

When it comes to licensing the data itself, New York didn’t opt for a CC license, but to write its own six-page license which is relatively permissive. The preamble to the terms sums it up:

Keep your re-uses lawful. So long as you are not doing anything malicious with NYS data, you may use it as you wish, subject to no other requirements.

New York’s open data license doesn’t require attribution or share-alike licensing, or prohibit commercial uses of open data. In that regard, this is not a restrictive license for using open data. However, after that broad policy statement, there are another five pages of restrictions and legalese. There are disclaimers for the open data portal crashing as a result of an act of war in New York, prohibitions on uploading computer viruses to the portal, warnings that public feedback about the portal are not guaranteed to be adopted, and agreements that users of the state’s open data indemnify New York against legal claims arising out of use of the data.

While none of these provisions contradict the general “So long as you are not doing anything malicious” preamble, the fact remains that there are a lot of terms and conditions for New York’s open data. This makes it all the more remarkable that the Open Data Guidebook is released under a Creative Commons license which only requires attribution.

Going forward, we hope to see more public data released to New Yorkers under the clear, simple, and straightforward Creative Commons licenses, not just the Guidelines.