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Who owns my Data? What happens when I leave the university?

By June Hedges, on 16 December 2015

Who owns the Intellectual Property Rights in my Data?

The answer to this question can be complex. In so far as your data is protected by copyright or other Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), the ownership is likely to be governed by the terms of any collaboration or funder agreements which are in place. Those agreements may also determine how the data can be made available for re-use. In the absence of any such terms, copyright would rest with you and your fellow researchers as the “authors”. The Student IPR Policy or Staff IPR Policy should be consulted for guidance on particular issues.

It is not a given that your data will be protected by IPR. “Raw data” consisting of facts and figures is not in itself protected. The manner in which it is expressed in a database may be protected by copyright if it is sufficiently original. Databases may also be protected by a separate Database Right which is dependent upon the resources which have gone into collecting and compiling the data. Depending on the project, individual items of data might also consist of other formats such as digital images, video sequences or sound recordings. If that is the case then copyright in the data is more likely to arise.

If data is protected by copyright or database right (or by both) it cannot be re-used without the owner’s permission. This permission could take the form of a licence such as a Creative Commons licence attached by the owner which states how the work may be re-used. There are good reasons for choosing to make data sets as freely available as possible for re-use by other researchers.

The UCL Research Data Policy states that where possible research data should be made available under a Creative Commons CC0 waiver. The effect of this is to waive all copyright and similar rights in the data and to make it available for re-use with no conditions. In practice your ability to make data available for re-use (and also to publish it in open access) may be limited by other legal and ethical considerations such as: Third party copyright in the data; Data protection; conditions imposed by funder agreements. Bearing these issues in mind, copyright should certainly be one of the factors considered in your Data Management Plan.

What happens when I leave the university?

If ownership of the copyright in your data is governed by the terms of a research agreement then those terms still apply when you leave UCL. If you own copyright in research data then you will continue to own it but UCL may claim a continuing licence to store and re-use the data as it chooses. Data which has been made available under a valid CC0 waiver is in the public domain and IP rights no longer apply.

For further advice on guidance on IPR related issues, see UCL copyright webpages or contact copyright@ucl.ac.uk.

Contributed by Chris Holland, Copyright Support Officer