In its most basic form, a licence is a set of ‘permissions’ to perform an action, or series of actions, where these permissions are outside the normal rights of the person/persons to do so. The issue of a ‘licence’ or set of permissions, is sometimes the result of a financial transaction (for example, the purchase of a television licence) or after passing a test for competency (for example, a driving licence).
When we apply this to research, and particularly to the published outputs from research (the literature, datasets, and other content relating to research findings), this enables others some form of rights to access, use, re-use, re-format, or sell the content, so long as the requirements laid down in the licence are adhered to.
Who controls the licence?
The owner or authority of the content controls how it is licenced and to what extent. In the published literature, this falls to the copyright holder of the content.