Intellectual property rights scenarios for data sharing

The UK Data Service rarely encounters copyright problems relating to sharing data beyond the original research project collecting primary data. To help researchers ensure no copyright breaches arise when wishing to deposit derived data from existing resources we make available a Variable Log Information Template (Excel). The template can be adapted depending on the type of analysis carried out and only the necessary information provided.

Below we provide illustrative examples of where issues may arise and how to deal with these problems. These issues normally occur due to the licences under which the original data are made available. A data licence establishes what secondary researchers can use the data for and how, if these data can be shared with others and under which conditions and the copyright in the collection.

We advise all researchers to check licences, and terms and conditions for any data sources they use. If any uncertainty arises they should get in touch with the data provider at their earliest convenience.

Scenario: A researcher has collated articles about the Prime Minister from The Guardian over the past ten years, using the LexisNexis database to source articles. These are then transcribed/copied by the researcher into a database so that content analysis can be applied. The researcher offers a copy of the database with the original transcribed text to the UK Data Service.

Rights issue: Researchers cannot share either of these data sources as they do not have copyright in the original material. The UK Data Service cannot accept these data as to do so would be breach of copyright. The rights holders, in this case The Guardian and LexisNexis, would need to provide consent for archiving.

Scenario: A researcher uses International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) data obtained from GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences in Germany. These data are available to registered GESIS users. The researcher incorporates some of the ISSP data within a database containing his own research data. Can this database be placed on the researcher’s website?

Rights issue: Although the ISSP data are available for free to all registered GESIS researchers, this does not mean that the data can be published on a website and made available to others. The data can be incorporated into a database and used for personal analysis. Before this dataset is placed on a website, permission must be sought from the data owner.

Scenario: A researcher has used data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS), obtained via the UK Data Service. NDNS data are available under safeguarded access and under Crown Copyright. The researcher has processed the NDNS data (filtered, integrated and aggregated data across variables, while maintaining individual records) and used the processed data to model food chain risks. The researcher would like to archive the processed data that were used as input data for the modelling, as well as the modelling code, at the UK Data Service.

Rights Issue: There is joint copyright over the processed data, shared between the researcher and the Crown (holding copyright over the NDNS data). The researcher must declare this joint copyright for the modelling data. Although the NDNS data are available as Crown Copyright, this does not mean that there are no restrictions associated to the use and sharing of data. The data is effectively anonymised and made available as ‘safeguarded’ data. This means use of the data is subject to the UK Data Service End User Licence (PDF), hence permission from the original data creator (Clause 15) is necessary to publish any derived data.

Scenario: A researcher has used data from the Participation Survey, 2021-2022, obtained via the UK Data Service. This data is available under Crown Copyright and available as an ‘open’ access collection. The researcher creates derived variables for their analysis and they would like to archive the derived data at the UK Data Service.

Rights issue: There is joint copyright over the processed data, shared between the researcher and the Crown (holding copyright over the original Participation survey data). The researcher must declare this joint copyright. The data collection is published under the Open Government Licence (OGL) hence no further permission from the data creator is required to archive the derived data as long as acknowledgement is provided as described in the OGL.

Scenario: A researcher studies how health issues around obesity are reported in the media in the last 10 years. Freely available newspaper websites and library sources are used to obtain articles on this topic. Articles or excerpts are copied into a database and coded according to various criteria for content analysis. Can the researcher use such public data without breaching copyright? Can the database be archived and shared with other researchers?

Rights issue: Even though the articles obtained are freely available online, they might still be subject to copyright. Whilst such information can be used for personal research purposes (fair dealing), the articles cannot be archived, unless permission is obtained from the newspapers; otherwise this would breach copyright. Terms and conditions of all data used should be checked before the archiving processes begins.

Scenario: A researcher has interviewed company directors about their careers and produced audio recordings and near verbatim transcripts herself which they have agreed to be made available as collected for future research. The researcher analyses this material and offers it to a data archive. What are the rights issues surrounding this offer of data?

Rights issues: In this case the company directors hold the copyright in their own recorded words, whilst the researcher holds copyright over the transcribed interviews. Quoting large extracts of the data, either in publications, or by archiving the transcripts, would breach the copyright of the interviewees in their recorded words.
If the researcher wants to publish large extracts of data, or archive transcripts, they need to request permission to do so from the interviewees or request that the interviewee transfers the copyright of the interview content to the researcher, which could be achieved through the use of a Recording Agreement.

Scenario: A researcher has copied a series of statistical information from a printed work into a spreadsheet. The transcription is a direct copy with minimal alterations. The book is in copyright.

Rights issue: The researcher should technically have cleared copyright before transcription. If the work is for personal use only, this can probably be disregarded, but if the newly constructed dataset is to be archived and disseminated, copyright clearance will need to be gained from the copyright holder.

Scenario: A researcher wishes to reuse a set of questions from an existing survey questionnaire, to compare results between the newly proposed survey and the original.

Rights issue: It should be assumed that all survey questions and instruments are copyright protected, with copyright residing with the organisation who commissioned, designed or conducted the survey. Our advice, therefore, is to contact the copyright holder directly for permission to reproduce questionnaire text for any new use.

In our experience, the copyright holder will almost always grant that permission. Some questionnaires contain measurement scales, batteries of questions or classifications. These particular instruments are copyright to the institution or company that produced them and must not be reproduced without permission. In many cases, the copyright for these instruments is printed on the relevant page of the questionnaire.

Regardless of what the blanket terms and conditions of data use are, we would always advise researchers to try to negotiate the sharing of derived data with the data suppliers at the time of acquisition or purchase. There are cases where the agreement has been successful and has actually set a precedent for opening up the sharing of such data under a broader licence. We can advise on such negotiations.

Scenario: A research student wishes to deposit data in an archive that was collected as part of their PhD or an academic staff during their employment with the university.

Rights issue: Although, Intellectual Property (IP) ownership will depend on national law and individual institutions’ policies. Most universities recognize as a general principle that students who are not employees of the university own the IP rights in the works they produce purely based on knowledge received from lectures and teaching. However, there may be some circumstances where ownership has to be shared or assigned to the university or a third party.

On the other hand, many universities or research centres claim ownership of any IP that is generated by academic staff in the course of their employment, and also when IP is created using substantial institutional resources.

Best practice is to check the institutional policies to determine who owns the IP in the produced work.