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University of Wollongong Australia

Copyright: Licensing your data/research

Legal information and requirements for copyright regarding academic research for staff and students.

Who holds copyright over your research?

  1. In the research sector (a university or other research institution), the employer usually holds the copyright to the research outputs.
  2. And the common practice for university students is to hold the copyright in their research.

Variations to both of these generalisations can occur. In the case of state, territory or federal government organisations producing research data, it is usually the government ('the Crown') that holds copyright.

How AUSGOAL can help

The Australian Government's Open Access and Licensing system (AusGOAL) provides options for managing your licenced data in accordance with Australian law. AusGOAL includes all of the Creative Commons licences and provides FAQ on copyright and research data.

Giving copyright permission to others

You're not permitted to exercise any of the copyright holders' rights (as in paragraph one) unless your actions fall within an exception in the Copyright Act.

However, copyright holders may give permissions to others to exercise those rights. These permissions are usually expressed in the form of a licence or assignment. An assignment exists where copyright is transferred from one party (the copyright holder) to another. Alternatively, a licence merely extends permission to someone else (as in paragraph one).

What you really need to know

The Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research says:

"Researchers have a responsibility to their colleagues and the wider community to disseminate a full account of their research as broadly as possible."

In terms of research data, the best way to achieve this objective is to licence the data (using AusGOAL) and to place it in a publicly-accessible repository (along with appropriate metadata etc.). If you don't license the data, no-one else can use it – it's that simple!

Protect your dataset

A dataset may attract copyright protection (as a literary work), if it meets certain threshold criteria of human authorship, originality, or creativity, for example. On that basis, significant quantities of research data will attract copyright protection. It may not be reused by researchers (or anyone else) without permission.

Since the output of most research is intended for reuse, it is recommended that a license, such as a Creative Commons Attribution license, be applied to make that intention explicit.

Commercialise your dataset

In addition, appropriate author/copyright holder attribution details should also be supplied. Alternatively, you could choose to commercialise your data, in which case you should contact the Innovation & Commercial Research Team.

There's no harm in applying for a Creative Commons license even if the data doesn't meet the threshold criteria for copyright. It will still serve as a useful way to make known how you would like to be attributed, in addition to applying a limitation of liability and warranty clause to the data.

If the data is entirely machine generated and compiled, the Creative Commons Public Domain Mark (PDM), or a no known rights statement, could also be applied.

Copyright doesn't subsist in everything that's published. This may be because:

  • copyright has expired, or
  • copyright never existed in the material

This is referred to as 'public domain' material. The Copyright Act doesn't recognise public domain because the term refers to material that is devoid of copyright. Nevertheless, organisations publish a lot of material (including data) that lacks copyright protection and they should apply an appropriate statement or marking to the material to indicate that status.

AusGOAL recommends the use of the Creative Commons Public Domain Mark (PDM). However, if your organisation wishes to apply a specific disclaimer, you may wish to use the 'no known rights statement' as a template.

Before applying these markings, your organisation should carefully consider whether copyright would nevertheless subsist in the material in other countries.

The benefit of using the Creative Commons Public Domain Mark (PDM) is that the PDM Chooser creates machine readable code underneath the human readable mark. This permits search engines and other software to determine copyright status of the material being published.

When copyright is missing

Organisations can choose to apply a 'no known rights' statement to material that is devoid of copyright or other intellectual property rights. These are simply another form of public domain mark. There is no prescribed format for these types of statements, but they should include content similar to the example below.

Organisations should also consider whether they need to make reference to the exclusion of emblems/coats of arms/other devices that might attract trademark protection when drafting these statements.

Example text:

"To the best of [custodian/organisation]'s knowledge:

  • there is no copyright or other intellectual property rights in [identify material] in Australia; and
  • it may be copied and otherwise re-used in Australia without copyright or other intellectual property right related restriction."

The following is a disclaimer that is optional and may be excluded or replaced by an alternative disclaimer used by you/your organisation:

"[custodian/organisation] will not be liable to you, on any legal basis (including negligence), for any loss or damage you suffer through your use of this material, except in those cases where the law does not allow us to exclude or limit our liability to you."

Australian law states that moral rights also attach to copyrighted material upon its creation. Part 9 of the Copyright Act establishes moral rights for authors (whom may not always be the copyright holder).

Moral rights in relation to an author include:

  • A right of attribution of authorship;
  • A right not to have authorship falsely attributed, or
  • A right of integrity of authorship (doing anything to the work that would be prejudicial to the authors reputation).

Moral rights:

  • Generally exist in a work for the same period as copyright;
  • Are not economic rights, and cannot be transferred or remunerated as is the case with copyright;
  • Vest with authors and may not be disposed of or sold. However, authors may consent to waive their moral rights.
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