Session 1 – Legal and policy issues

Here are the notes from this session.

Welcome to the web forum for this session within the JISC Innovation Forum’s ‘Data’ strand. The (invitation-only) face-to-face component of this forum will be on 15th July 1045-1215. For that to be a success, we need your comments and feedback.

What are we trying to achieve? Well, the aims of the session are:
– to explore the institutional role in the management and sharing of research data, specifically IPR and policy issues
– to allow the participants to share experience and views on options, such as Creative Commons or other open licenses

The session will take the form of a debate, where the motion being debated is: “Curating and sharing research data is best done where the researcher’s institution asserts IPR claims over the data”.

Do you have experiences or views relevant to this motion? What “works” in terms of enabling good curation and sharing practice? What does “works” mean in that question? What risks does an institution run in asserting, or not asserting, IPR claims? How does this relate to the frequent position where data is curated outside the researcher’s institution?

We welcome your comments, evidence, views – please, as soon as possible and by Thursday 10th at the latest. Please use the comments facility below to add your contribution.

Relevant background reports include:
Publication and Quality Assurance of Research Data Outputs
Dealing with data
Various reports from the JISC IPR consultancy

many thanks
Neil Jacobs

14 thoughts on “Session 1 – Legal and policy issues

  1. Neil Geddes

    The motion over-simplifies the problem.
    The issues re multi layered and this over-simplification hides this. A better resolution, which could more easily be supported would be that “RESPONSIBILITY FOR Curating and sharing research data is best done where the researcher’s institution asserts IPR claims over the data”.
    Without the additional phrase it is assumed that all the physical processes of storage, indexing and data discovery should be done by the IPR holders. This works against the goals of driving efficiency through common provision and the development of cross cutting search and access tools.
    Of course, without the responsibility remaining with the IPR holder then there is less incentive to curate the data and keep it live.

  2. Sam Pepler

    You can read this resolution a number of ways. Do you mean:

    “Curating and sharing research data is best done by the researcher’s institution asserting an IPR claims over the data”.

    That is effective curation is achived by asserting IPR claims on the data, something I would argue for. Or do you mean the institutional repository is the best place for data:

    “Curating and sharing research data is best done by the researcher’s institution because it asserts IPR claims over the data”.

    This is a statment I would not support because institutions are not the only thing asserting IPR claims on the data. What about:

    Responsibility for curating and sharing research data is best done by those asserting IPR claims over the data”

  3. Neil Jacobs

    Sorry, I didn’t realise that this ambiguity existed in the resolution as stated. Just to be clear, the resolution is intended to be that, whoever is attempting to curate the data, and wherever that attempt is taking place, curation is most easily done when the instition asserts IPR claims over the data. I hope this addresses Bryan’s and Sam’s points?

  4. Norman Gray

    Much scientific data (for example, most STFC-funded data) has huge scientific value, but little or no immediate economic value — no-one wants to buy a list of galaxy redshifts; the same goes for most humanities data. Thus IPR is seen as a grubby irrelevance for a lot of data producers, and so if curation is yoked too closely to IPR issues, there is a risk of these areas not being catered for.

  5. Mags

    Hi Norman,

    I’m speaking against the motion next Tuesday and hence found your point very interesting. Do you have any further information/evidence/thoughts on this that you are willing to share?


  6. Sam Pepler


    Yes IPR is a dirty word in some sciences because it sounds like trying to make money out of something that does not naturally fit into the commercial world. However, IPR is also about copyright and getting credit for your work, and that is something which very naturally fits into academic work.


  7. Peter Morgan

    I question the motion’s assumption that curation and sharing come as an inevitable package. We doubtless all wish this to be the case, but it ain’t necessarily so. I can see the logic of the argument that if IPR in data is being taken seriously by institutions, then more resources are likely to be invested in better curation of the data in order to protect these assets. But it certainly doesn’t guarantee that the data will be made available for sharing, since IPR management may result in protective practices that create barriers to ease of access and re-use.

    This point has just been made much more eloquently by Nobel Laureates Sulston and Stiglitz at a public debate “Who Owns Science?” to launch Manchester’s Institute of Science, Ethics, and Innovation They also wrote to The Times on the subject last Saturday, 5 July 2008


  8. Robin Rice

    As I mentioned to Mags in an email, it wasn’t clear (perhaps until Neil’s clarification above) whether the opposite of the assertion was that someone else curates the data (who? the researcher? the funder or their agent such as a national data archive?) or that nobody asserts the IPR!

    Researchers like to control their data, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t welcome institutional services to make it easier.

    I’m always interested to hear views on “who owns the data?” I have heard variously, the researcher, the funder, the institution, and the (human) subjects! My conclusion is ownership gets in the way – better question is who has the rights to use the data?

  9. Rachel Bruce

    Interesting comments. I agree with Robin that when we’re talking about IPR/copyright the important aspect is what it allows you to do and who can use and re-use the data.

    If IPR “is seen as a grubby irrelevance” to many of the researchers producing data then perhaps it is important for institutions to assert some IPR claims in order to enable data management and re-use to happen. (of course an institution may want to restrict re-use…)

    If institutions assert IPR claims will this lead to more consistent policies and therefore more effective curation and use of data than if it is left up to individual researchers? Or do we just need advice and policies to help researchers make the most of their data.

    Think I might be concluding that currently institutions should assert some rights as might funders.

  10. Charles Oppenheim

    IPR has to be owned by someone. It is not owned by the funder unless it makes that a condition of funding, which I doubt many do. It is normally owned by the employer of the researcher, but custom and practice is that employers have ignored their rights and left ownership matters to the researchers themselves. The owner has certain rights, in particular to prevent others from copying the data. Whether they choose to exercise those rights is another matter. Re-use and curation involve copying and so in theory cannot be done without the rights owner’s permission.

    So, like it or not, IPR is there, is owned, and gives the owner rights; re-use and curation infringe those rights. The question is really about whether all this can be quietly ignored, or should be managed in some way.

  11. Chris Rusbridge

    There seems to be a trend at the moment (see Science Commons et al) to suggest that science is hindered y IPR claims to data, and that the best thing that can happen is for the data to be irrevocably dedicated to the public domain. This clearly shouldn’t happen to all data (eg data representing sensitive personal data must be properly protected). But if IPR claims imply licences to make available, even benign licences like CC, BSD or GNU, they argue that unless EVERYONE uses the same licence the resulting complexities will kill interoperability!

  12. Norman Gray

    It’s true that researchers are comfortable with the notion that institutions delegate copyrights to them (and perhaps a similar convention might be useful for IPR), but the perceived advantage here is probably not `good, I have extra rights’, but `good, I don’t have to ask permission to allocate the copyright’.

    It might be that the language is wrong here. We’re talking about Intellectual Property _Rights_, when perhaps we should be talking about Intellectual Property _Responsibilities_. What we’re actually interested in in this conversation is who has the responsibility for looking after the data, and it’s only for a (small?) part of the academy that that follows as a commercial imperative from who has the rights for the data. For everyone else, they’re two separate questions, incomprehensibly yoked: one involves form-filling, the other involves being helped to look after the results of your work.

  13. Mags McGeever

    IPR rights in data are frequently misunderstood and consequently over-asserted – which stifles curation and sharing. Equally where he IPR rights do exist in the data, collaborations involving different jurisdictions, large numbers of institutions etc can make unravelling the IPR rights exceedingly complicated. Large amounts of resources can be spent (wasted?) agreeing these.

    With this is in mind there seems some sense in the suggestion (as also highlighted by Chris above) of the Science Commons Protocol that data be dedicated to the public domain. The potential for downstream innovation in this case is greatly increased.

    Clearly there are exceptions to this. Access and data protection are a very important, but arguably separate, issue.

    The attribution needs that IPRs provide can be met nowadays (perhaps more successfully even) by technology.

  14. Sarah Jones

    I used to work for AHDS Perfoming Arts arranging deposit of collections. This involved a licence being signed that granted us permission to perform preservation actions on the data, and if possible also making it freely available for non-commercial / educational use. Often researchers were unclear about who held the rights and whether they were able to agree to the conditions of the licence. Rather than asserting IPR claims over data I think more support is needed to help data creators understand who holds the rights so they can make appropriate curation and dissemination choices.

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