Monday, February 1, 2016 News

U.S. Labor Department Adopts Open Licensing Policy

Open Education

Six months ago, a coalition of more than 100 organizations signed a letter calling on President Obama to adopt an Executive Branch-wide policy to open up federally funded educational materials to the public. Since then, the Administration has taken several significant steps in this direction, through the 3rd Open Government National Action Plan and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on open licensing.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has taken the latest and largest step by formally adopting a department-wide open licensing policy, which reads:

“…the Department of Labor requires intellectual property developed under a competitive Federal award process to be licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license. This license allows subsequent users to copy, distribute, transmit and adapt the copyrighted work and requires such users to attribute the work in the manner specified by the recipient.”

This language was officially posted in the Federal Register in December as part of an update to the DOL’s uniform grant making rules. It will apply to all intellectual property developed under future DOL competitive grant awards—which includes everything from books to manuals to computer code—and will ensure these resources are licensed for the public to freely use, share and build upon. According to an analysis by New America, the requirement will impact approximately $300-400 million in Federal awards each year.

This policy builds on DOL’s leadership on open licensing at the program level, most notably through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program. Launched in 2011, this $2 billion program to improve workforce training required grantees to put a Creative Commons Attribution license on all grant-funded content and an appropriate open software license on grant-funded code. All of the openly licensed resources developed under TAACCCT are being archived online for public access at

The DOL open licensing policy is similar to ED’s proposed policy, in that both apply broadly to intellectual property produced through competitive grants, and require the use of a license that permits full reuse of the material on the condition of attribution. DOL takes an additional step by explicitly naming the Creative Commons Attribution license, although it does not make a special provision for software licensing, which ED’s proposed language does. Nether policy directly addresses the sharing and distribution of resources to the public once licensed, which will be a critical element for both agencies to address as they move toward implementation.

SPARC applauds DOL and the Obama Administration for ensuring that the public can freely and fully use the resources that our taxpayer dollars fund, and for the Administration’s ongoing leadership on this important issue. We look forward to working with our allies inside and outside the government to expand this type of policy to additional agencies to ensure that public investments ultimately serve their intended purpose: promoting the public good.

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