RE: What is the license of w3c ontologies and vocabularies?

FYI – there is an issue around the license that prevents the re-use of W3C ontologies by Wikidata. That would seem to be undesirable.

I think the problem is around the way that attribution is carried forward – not quite sure though. I’ve reached out to Wikidata folk for clarification.
Re-use/re-mix patterns for ontologies are different to software, so use of a standard software license has unintended consequences.


From: Ivan Herman []
Sent: Friday, 7 December, 2018 17:00
To: Stian Soiland-Reyes <>
Cc:;;; Sandro Hawke <>;
Subject: Re: What is the license of w3c ontologies and vocabularies?


this is not something that I or Sandro can do unilaterally; I have contacted our legal people


On 7 Dec 2018, at 02:29, Stian Soiland-Reyes <<>> wrote:

Hi PROV/OA/site folks, sorry to wake up an old thread..

The below license change didn't seem to progress to changes on

Would the license of PROV ontologies/schemas be changed to Software
License on ?

.. and (ideally, but not a blocker) as some kind of file header in children files?

Similarly I notice also is under Document Use
license, which is much more restrictive than its previous license

Could the OA namespace files and JSON-LD context also have its license
changed to the W3C Software License so that it can be used in open
source software?

(I'm sure there are others under /ns/ but for my Apache projects those 2
are the most important ones)

On Fri, 18 Mar 2016 20:21:47 +0100, Ivan Herman <<>> wrote:

I think we should, yes.


Ivan Herman
Tel:+31 641044153

(Written on mobile, sorry for brevity and misspellings...)

On 18 Mar 2016, at 19:51, Sandro Hawke <<>> wrote:

The conclusion from the other thread, with Eric, is clearly the Software license.    Should we go edit the the ontologies to say this?

     -- Sandro

On 03/18/2016 11:29 AM, Stian Soiland-Reyes wrote:
Hi, in Apache Taverna we try to use PROV, and part of that is to embed

in our source code to avoid external dependencies.

As we discuss in

.. now we are not sure if we can do this, as it is unclear what is the
license of the PROV ontologies and schemas.

They do not have any <!-- style --> headers, and there is no
dcterms:license annotatoin.




Copyright © 2011-2013 W3C® (MIT, ERCIM, Keio, Beihang), All Rights Reserved. W3C liability, trademark and document use rules apply.
The Document Use Rules

are controversial for Apache source code as it forbids modifications:

No right to create modifications or derivatives of W3C documents is granted pursuant to this license, except as follows: To facilitate implementation of the technical specifications set forth in this document, anyone may prepare and distribute derivative works and portions of this document in software, in supporting materials accompanying software, and in documentation of software, PROVIDED that all such works include the notice below. HOWEVER, the publication of derivative works of this document for use as a technical specification is expressly prohibited.
..and hence we can't include them in source code
repositories/releases, as it would be incompatible with the Apache

(including in binaries are OK, but then we have to fetch them during
build - which risks hitting the infamous schema 'tar pit')

However the Document Use rules also says:

In addition, "Code Components" —Web IDL in sections clearly marked as Web IDL; and W3C-defined markup (HTML, CSS, etc.) and computer programming language code clearly marked as code examples— are licensed under the W3C Software License.
( The W3C Software License is permissive and would be OK to include in
source code. )

This list does not include schemas, ontologies or JSON-LD contextx -
so it is unclear if these count as "Code Components" or as
"Documents".  Do we then have to assume that if they don't have a
header or license annotation, then they are under the Documentation

BTW - here's an example of a schema with the software licence header,
which means we can include it in source code:

(once you get it out of the tar pit)

<!-- Schema for XML Signatures

   $Revision: 1.1 $ on $Date: 2002/02/08 20:32:26 $ by $Author: reagle $

   Copyright 2001 The Internet Society and W3C (Massachusetts Institute
   of Technology, Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en
   Automatique, Keio University). All Rights Reserved.

   This document is governed by the W3C Software License [1] as described
   in the FAQ [2].




Would it be possible for other schemas and ontologies, particularly
under /ns/ to get a similar clarifying license header? Or at least
this to be a requirement for any future specifications?

Another question is what counts as a "modification" - is this any
derived work? E.g. changing a Turtle file to JSON-LD? Or generating
Java class files with JAXB from an XSD?

We're considering a legal workaround by packaging various w3c schemas
as Maven artifacts, from Github distributed to Maven Central as JAR
"binaries" - but it is even unclear if this would count as a

(We have a similar issue with OASIS schemas)

Ivan Herman, W3C
Publishing@W3C Technical Lead

mobile: +31-641044153

Received on Friday, 7 December 2018 07:31:18 UTC