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Releasing content under open access

Content is created every day at the University of Washington by students, staff, and faculty. Most of this content is protected under copyright law which provides a variety of rights that allow copyright owners to control how the content is used by others. Copyright owners use a license to provide permission and can choose from a variety of licenses to tailor the permissions granted. For example, the license may allow the copyrighted material to be used for commercial use if certain fees are paid, the copyright owner may want to offer a free and open use license, or some combination of the two (e.g. free and open to academics only, under money bearing licenses for other users). For those copyright owners that do not wish to charge fees to access their materials, there are many open access license types.

‘Open Access’ is a term that can be interpreted in many different ways but, generally, means the practice of making content freely available online to anyone interested in accessing it. Access to the content can simply allow users the ability to read the content without having to pay for it, or go further by granting users additional rights, so that people are free to reuse, modify, or redistribute the content.

If University owned copyrighted material is going to be licensed for any type of compensation, it needs to be disclosed via a Report of Innovation to the University, and CoMotion has sole authority to negotiate those licenses on behalf of the University.

Open Access generally applies to content other than software. For information on releasing software code under open source, please see our Open Source FAQ.

Who can decide to release content under an open access license

The UW development team can choose to release their content under a no-cost open access license provided that such release will not violate any other agreements, such as funding agreements or agreements within the UW, and that the content or any related patents are not under management at CoMotion. If the content is under management or related to a patent under management at CoMotion, CoMotion licenses the content with input from the developers. In addition, review the informatmion below in ‘What do I need to do before releasing’ to confirm the material is appropriate for release.

How to prepare for release

  1. Check for third party material incorporated in your content and make sure that you are complying with all the terms of those third party material licenses. Consider whether such third party material is integrated into your content. Also consider whether such 3rd party material is necessary or whether it could be removed. Third party materials can include things like video footage, content a researcher has assigned ownership to a publisher, a graph from someone else’s presentation or paper, an image from the internet, music, and anything else that was created by someone other than the UW employee for the project in question.
  2. Check the funding obligations (sponsored research agreements or grants) for the funding that supported the development. UW and sponsors may have agreed to conditions that would prohibit licensing under an open access license, require prior permission, or have other significant restrictions. Funding conditions would have to be satisfied before any open access release would be allowable.
  3. Discuss with the Principal Investigator(s) and the developer team the wishes and goals of the team regarding release of content.


Teams that want to develop a commercialization strategy for their content should contact CoMotion to develop a strategy that meets the team’s goals before releasing the content. If you do not have a CoMotion innovation manager, request a consultation (this requires a UW NetID).

Recommended licenses


Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Sharealike: This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon the work non-commercially, as long as they credit UW and license their new creations under the identical terms. A conversation with CoMotion is recommended if the strategy is for later commercial release.


Creative Commons Attribution: This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon the work, even commercially, as long as they give credit for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.

Prohibited licenses

Any license that includes a grant of patent rights which can impact the IP rights of the authors and other researchers at the University even if not involved in the project.


For projects that do not involve commercial licenses, contact your department or college administrators.

For project that do involve commercial licenses, CoMotion will help you manage the technology and choose the most appropriate license. Request a consultation or call your innovation manager.