Whenever you create something, you automatically receive certain intellectual property rights. This applies to data as well as paintings, books, or music. Intellectual property is what gives the owner control over how their work is used, modified, shared, or licensed.
Copyright is an intellectual property right that is assigned to an author when creating content. It effectively makes research outputs (e.g. tables, reports, computer code) count as literary works from a legal viewpoint and it has a pivotal role in the sharing and reuse of research data.
Key information on copyright
Here are a few things you should know about copyright :
- The creator(s) of research data automatically get copyright when the work exists in a recorded form.
- When you collaborate with others, copyright is shared between the authors or their organisations.
- If you create work during employment, your employer is legally the copyright holder. Some employers such as universities sometimes give copyright back to authors, but you should check whether this is your case. If you are a research student (e.g. a PhD student), your situation might differ – you should refer to your contract to find out which rules apply.
- If you deal with recorded or transcribed interviews you hold the copyright on these. Yet interviewees are considered as authors of their recorded words. If you wish to share these, you should seek a copyright transfer from the interviewees.
- To transfer copyright, you need a written document called an assignment.
- The concept of fair dealing normally allows you to reproduce data for non-commercial teaching or research purposes. However, be careful about your actions as there is no statutory definition of fair dealing and each case is evaluated qualitatively. Note that this is a national UK law and alternatives exist in other countries (e.g. the fair use doctrine in the United States).
- Databases can benefit from two forms of protection: copyright deals with the content of the database, while database right deals with its structure. Note that database right only applies under certain conditions.
When you wish to share your research data, you need to consider all of the above. You need to make sure you identify the rights holder(s) and get permission when relevant.
Building on other people’s work
When your work builds on other datasets, you have to ensure all rights holders have agreed to:
- The reproduction of their original work
- The sharing of their work in a modified form (e.g. when you merge different datasets to create a new and larger one).
At times, third-party copyright infringements prevent the publication of research outputs, such as electronic theses. Therefore, do not overlook the importance of copyright, as the future visibility of your work might be affected.
Licensing your work to enable reuse
To specify how you wish people to reuse your work, you have to license it. By choosing a licence, you can effectively tell others a number of things:
- Whether you require attribution
- What type of licence they should apply to work building upon your data
- Whether work resulting from a transformation of your data or building upon it can be shared
- Whether commercial use is permitted.
Note that, to enable digital preservation, a copyright declaration permitting format shifting is normally required.