Study of foundations’ open content policies

Phil Malone, An Evaluation of Private Foundation Copyright Licensing: Policies, Practices and Opportunities, report by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, August 2009. From the executive summary:

Private foundations fund and 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. Foundations seek to achieve the most impact and the greatest good with the money
they invest. Doing so often depends on ensuring the broadest dissemination and greatest,
most productive and innovative use, reuse and redistribution of the many works they
support. …

This project, a joint effort of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard
University, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Ford Foundation and the Open
Society Institute, with funding from Hewlett and Ford, undertook to examine the copyright
licensing policies and practices of a group of twelve private foundations. In particular, it
looked at the extent to which charitable foundations are aware of and have begun to use
open licenses such as Creative Commons or the GPL. We surveyed foundation staff and
leaders and examined a number of examples where foundations have begun to take
advantage of new licensing models for materials and resources produced by their own staff,
their consultants and their grantees. …

Currently, three of the twelve foundations surveyed expressly require their grantees to
use open licenses for the works they create; two others strongly encourage the use of such
licenses. At the same time, an increasing number of foundations and other organizations
that fund scholarly research and publications are encouraging grantees to make their work
product available for free in online, digital archives or repositories, though not always with
the full benefit of open licenses. In addition, a number of foundations are major supporters
of a critical new initiative to create large networks of free and open educational resources
(OER) online, usually with by a commitment to some form of open licensing of most of the

Based on the survey results, foundation experiences and extensive additional research,
the project identified a variety of benefits that the use of open content licenses can bring to
foundations and their charitable goals. It also evaluated possible drawbacks and concerns
that open licenses might present in certain situations. The project sought to develop an
analytical framework and set of factors that foundations can use to begin considering when
and where the use of open licenses would further their mission and their day to day work
and where such licenses might not be useful or appropriate. …

Taking advantage of these opportunities and beginning to obtain many of the benefits
will not require foundations to immediately alter their existing licensing policies or practices.
Rather, any approach can be incremental, beginning with internal discussions and careful
consideration of the possible benefits and potential drawbacks of open licenses in a
foundation’s particular situation and fields. That analysis is likely to flow naturally into
valuable outreach: conversations with partners and grantees about licensing options,
benefits and objections. Program officers ordinarily are in excellent positions to raise these
issues with grantees, and the resulting conversations may identify areas where open licensing
by the foundation and/or its grantees would be immediately beneficial and create little
objection or burden, as well as other areas where greater adjustments need to be made or a
more nuanced approach may be required. …

The Report concludes with a series of recommendations designed to help motivate and
facilitate foundations to begin to examine their own licensing needs and practices. These
recommendations include steps to raise awareness and develop intentionality in the
foundation sector generally as well as steps for individual foundations to engage in their own
consideration and evaluation of the appropriateness of open licensing in the context of their
particular programs and grantees. …