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Copyright and Text & Data mining – what do I need to know?

Kirsty6 July 2021

Text and Data Mining (TDM) is a broad term used to cover any advanced techniques for computer-based analysis of large quantities of data of all kinds (numbers, text, images etc). It is a crucial tool in many areas of research, including notably Artificial Intelligence (AI). TDM can be used to reveal significant new facts, relationships and insights from the detailed analysis of vast amounts of data in ways which were not previously possible. An example would be mining medical research literature to investigate the underlying causes of health issues and the efficacy of treatments.

The importance of having copyright exceptions in place to facilitate TDM arises from the fact that the swathes of material which need to be mined are often protected by copyright. That would be true for example of “literary works” of all kinds and of images in many cases. It is frequently the case that researchers will have lawful access to the material but will be prevented from applying TDM techniques because copying the material onto the required computer platform risks legal action for infringement on the part of the copyright owners. “Copying” is of course one of the acts restricted by copyright law and in general the greater the amount and variety of material, the greater the copyright risk.

It is worth remembering that when the Government created an exception for Text and Data Mining in 2014, it meant that the UK was ahead of the game. Other countries did not generally have an exception in their legislation at that time. Since then, other jurisdictions have caught up and, in some cases overtaken the UK. Cutting edge research is a highly competitive area and researchers working in a country which benefits from a generous TDM exception will have a distinct advantage.

The existing exception is still significant from the Open Science perspective in enabling research projects where computer analysis of large quantities of copyright-protected material is required, particularly in the context of AI.

Let’s take a closer look at the UK TDM exception and what it allows us to do, before comparing it briefly with the more recent EU exceptions. The UK exception is to be found in Section 29A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

What does the exception allow us to do?

Copying copyright-protected works in order to carry out “text and data analysis” (“computational analysis” in the wording of the exception). The need to copy arises because researchers must have have the material to be analysed on a specific platform, to carry out the analysis. The need for the exception then arises because without it, the researcher would require permission from the owner of copyright in each item. Without permission (or an exception), the researchers would be infringing copyright by copying a vast swathe of protected material. That in turn would often make the research impractical to carry out.

Who may do this?

Absolutely anyone, the exception says “a person.” This is wonderfully broad and one of the more favourable aspects of the UK exception. For example you don’t need to be working for/ studying at a particular type of institution to benefit from the exception.

Are there conditions?

You must have lawful access to the material. A prime example would be the text of academic journals. We have lawful access to large numbers of e-journals because UCL Library subscribes to them. The exception would allow a UCL researcher to download large amounts of content from e-journals to carry out detailed analysis using specialised tools. It is important to note that the exception cannot be overridden by contract terms. It follows that a term in an e-journal contract seeking to prevent TDM would have no force, in circumstances where the exception applies. This makes the exception a much more useful tool than it would otherwise be.

As you might expect the copies made for TDM purposes may not be used for other purposes, shared etc under the exception.

Significantly, the analysis must be “…for the sole purpose of research for a non commercial purpose.” This is a major restriction, which would rule out many situations where TDM might be used, for example research by a pharmaceutical company developing new drugs which will be marketed commercially. A major issue with the exception is that it can be unclear at what point “non-commercial” shades into “commercial.” A project which starts out as academic research may take on commercial significance down the line and a piece of research with no commercial aspects may be funded by commercial sponsors. It is an important constraint in the legislation which can also be difficult to be sure about in real life situations. It can stand in the way of joint projects by HEIs and commercial organisations.

Still, in situations where we can claim there is no commercial aspect to the research, the exception is potentially very useful. In addition to material which is already digital it can cover projects where digitisation of copyright- protected print material is required to be analysed. It can be very useful in situations where the copyright status of the source material is unclear, since provided the exception applies, there is no need to investigate further the complexities of copyright in the material.

The new EU TDM exception or rather exceptions

The EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market (DSM Directive) offers two new exceptions, which EM member states are obliged to transpose. They can be found in Articles 3 and 4 of the Directive.

There are important differences of approach to the UK in the answer to the question:  who may carry out the TDM? Article 3 provides an exception which benefits two defined categories of organisations: “Research organisations” and “Cultural heritage organisations.” Included within those groups are for example universities, museums, publicly funded libraries. Commercial organisations are excluded. It seems that independent researchers, not associated with an organisation would also be excluded, even though their research might be “non-commercial.” In common with the UK legislation, this exception cannot be overridden by contract terms and is therefore a powerful tool. The Directive addresses the question of public-private research collaborations in the recitals to the directive, e.g. recital 11. They are not excluded from benefitting from the Article 3 exception.

Article 4 offers a separate TDM exception which is available to anyone (including commercial organisations) but which is limited in a specific way: If the rights owners explicitly reserve the rights to carry out TDM within their works, then it cannot be mined under the exception. In other words, the EU DSM Directive goes one step further than the UK by offering an exception which can be used to mine lawfully accessible works by commercial organisations (or by anyone else), but it does not apply if the rights owner has explicitly ruled out TDM.  By contrast, commercial organisations would not be able to use the UK exception, unless they can claim the specific research is for a non-commercial purpose.

Guest post by Chris Holland, UCL Copyright Support Officer. For more information or advice contact: copyright@ucl.ac.uk

Love Data Week – UCL’s Research Data Storage Service (RDSS) now open to external collaborators!

Kirsty12 February 2021

Guest post by James Wilson, Head of Research Data Services


Over the last year we’ve been making a number of improvements to the Research Data Storage Service (RDSS) to help researchers store and access their data in a way that better corresponds to how they work.

The RDSS is a managed storage service that helps researchers comply with funders’ criteria for good data management. It provides a storage space for research projects so that anyone involved in that project has a secure area in which to store and share files with their collaborators. Projects in the RDSS do not need to be formal, externally funded projects – they can be for personal research, or small unfunded collaborations between colleagues – but the service is well adapted for large projects with compute and multi-terabyte storage requirements.

That said, the service has had some limitations in the past which we have been addressing. The foremost amongst these was that you needed to be a member of UCL in order to use it. Increasingly, however, research is undertaken with collaborators around the world or in partnership with industry. Covid-19 has only accelerated this trend. We have recently added external collaborator functionality, enabling PIs to add external project members via a simple email invitation from within the interface.

We have also integrated the RDSS with UCL’s Research Data Repository – a platform that enables data and other non-traditional research outputs to be published, cited, and preserved over the long term. Researchers with a project registered in the RDSS can now move files, including very large files, across to the repository, along with contextual information.
As the volume of data in the RDSS grows, so we extend our capacity. We added an additional 600 terabytes of capacity during 2020, and will be adding a further petabyte of storage this coming term. The first terabyte of storage for any project is provided free of charge, with larger projects charged at £50 per TB per year. This gets you two copies of your data on disk in two different physical data halls at UCL’s Slough Data centre. A third back-up copy is saved to tape, and there is a 30-day retention period to help protect against accidental deletion.

Further information about the RDSS can be found at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/isd/services/research-it-services

Love Data Week – Sharing data? Your questions answered

Kirsty10 February 2021

Guest post by James Houghton, Research Data Support Officer


Dealing with research data, and the associated legal and administrative issues, can be confusing. This article responds to some of the frequent question and confusions people have regarding research data management.

Do I always have to share data?

Not always – but in general data sharing is required unless you have a very good reason not to and UCL expects research to be shared as widely as possible. Data sharing is possibly inappropriate in the following situations:

  • The project contains personal data which could compromise the privacy of individuals. In this case the Data Protection Act (2018) applies and the data cannot be shared.
  • There is a possibility that the research could be commercialised. In this case, data should not be shared before obtaining necessary patent protections.
  • Other ethical concerns for which a justification can be created. For example, data on an endangered species might be used by poachers so it would be reasonable not to share this data.

If you are ever unsure about releasing data, speak to someone before you proceed. The Library RDM team and the Data Protection Team can advise on this.

Does UCL have a data sharing policy?

Yes, and it specifies the expectations placed on all UCL staff and students on making data available.

Be aware that in addition to the UCL policy, funding agencies will have their own requirements. You need to be compliant with all policies that might apply!

So, I need to share my data. Does UCL have a platform for data sharing?

Yes, we do! UCL has its own data repository service, the UCL Research Data Repository

I don’t have any data.

The term “data” is used as a shorthand to cover all research outputs, so even if you think you don’t have data, you probably generate something during the course of your research that should be preserved and potentially shared. Even if your field uses a different term you are probably still bound by the data sharing policy.

Here’s is a wide-ranging list of what could be considered “research data”

  • Research notebooks, detailing progress of research and experiments
  • Responses to surveys and questionnaires
  • Software, code, algorithms, and models
  • Measurements from laboratory or field equipment
  • Images (such as photographs, films, scans of documents)
  • Methods, protocols, and experimental procedures
  • Databases of collected information
  • A corpus of writings
  • Audio and video recordings
  • Interview Transcripts
  • Physical samples and objects

If you have an output not included in this list, it could can still be classed as research data!

What on earth is metadata?

Metadata is simply data that describes other data. Here are a few examples:

  • A description of the inclusion criteria for enrolling participants in a study
  • The set of questions used in interviews
  • Any file naming conventions used to keep track of data
  • The parameters used by any equipment used to make measurements
  • The dates and times images were taken
  • Details of quality assurance steps to explain why some data points were deemed to be erroneous and unsuitable for analysis
  • Administrative information such as dates of interviews, experiments or visits to a location

This is not an exhaustive list by any means! Metadata can vary considerably between projects and research fields.

In the same way data might underpin the results of a project, metadata could be said to underpin the methods of a project. If you need to address the issue of metadata, think about what another researcher would need to know to replicate the data as closely as possible.

What resources can I access at UCL to store data safely?

All UCL IT managed storage services have automated backups in place to protect data and are recommended over using your own personal devices or individual cloud storage accounts. There are a few different options depending on your needs:

  • The personal N: drive or S: drives are fine for day-to-day storage of PDFs, office documents and non-sensitive materials.
  • The Research Data Storage Service supports high speed file transfer for large quantities of data and is extremely useful for anyone who want to work with the high-performance computing clusters.
  • The Data Safe Haven is specifically designed to store personal data covered by the Data Protection Act 2018. This secure service helps you meet legal obligations on data security when relevant.
  • Services such as SharePoint and OneDrive can be useful for collaboration with colleagues and allow for functionality such as simultaneous editing of documents.

Need more information?

We have extended guidance on research data management available on our website and the library research data management team can be contacted to discuss specific issues at: lib-researchsupport@ucl.ac.uk

Love Data Week – Research Data Management at UCL: 2020 in review

Kirsty8 February 2021

To celebrate Love Data Week, the Research Data Management team have prepared a review of 2020, looking back over the past 12 months and reflecting on progress made in a number of areas.

Follow the link below to read the report and find out more about the Research Data Management and Sharing Plan review service, our new online training courses on writing data management plans and open science and scholarship and improved guidance about making research data FAIR – findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable – within the wider open science and scholarship context. You can also find out about the newly revised research data policy which includes updated advice for UCL staff and research students in managing their research outputs

Finally, you can find out about the number, amount and types of research outputs published using the UCL Research Data Repository, as well as the number and variety of views and downloads.

Download and explore the report on the UCL Research Data Repository,