Scholarly response

This is the full statement by two organisations involved in scientific publishing, responding to the current controversy on access to data. Broadly speaking a positive statement, and has the added intrigue of this: “The academic and publishing communities should discuss further (in the context of the debate on the public funding of research) whether more reliable and more permanent sites should be established to host research data. Given that STM in particular have been quite vocal against open access to actual articles, it’s hard to tell whether this is a step in the right direction or a ham-fisted attempts to answer the data debate in the hope of closing off the general open-access-journals issue (or in particular, open access for publicly funded research results, data, articles and all!). Also, there’s some silly stuff on databases, but I’ll park the rant on that for the sake of clarity. Here’s the full statement – it’s only on the Web in PDF. Source: STM site.

Databases, data sets, and data accessibility – views and practices of
scholarly publishers

A statement by the International Association of Scientific, Technical and
Medical Publishers (STM) and the Association of Learned and
Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP)

Publishers recognise that in many disciplines data itself, in various forms, is now a
key output of research. Data searching and mining tools permit increasingly
sophisticated use of raw data. Of course, journal articles provide one ‘view’ of the
significance and interpretation of that data – and conference presentations and
informal exchanges may provide other ‘views’ – but data itself is an increasingly
important community resource.

Science is best advanced by allowing as many scientists as possible to have access to
as much prior data as possible; this avoids costly repetition of work, and allows
creative new integration and reworking of existing data.

There is considerable controversy in the scholarly community about ‘ownership’ of
and access to data, some of which arises because of the difficulty in distinguishing
between information products created for the specific display and retrieval of data
(‘databases’) and sets or collections of raw relevant data captured in the course of
research or other efforts (‘data sets’). Another point of difficulty is that in many cases
data sets or even smaller sub-sets of data are also provided as an electronic adjunct to
a paper submitted to a scholarly journal, either for online publication or simply to
allow the referees to verify the conclusions.

We believe that, as a general principle, data sets, the raw data outputs of research, and
sets or sub-sets of that data which are submitted with a paper to a journal, should
wherever possible be made freely accessible to other scholars. We believe that the
best practice for scholarly journal publishers is to separate supporting data from the
article itself, and not to require any transfer of or ownership in such data or data sets
as a condition of publication of the article in question. Further, we believe that when
articles are published that have associated data files, it would be highly desirable,
whenever feasible, to provide free access to that data, immediately or shortly after
publication, whether the data is hosted on the publisher’s own site or elsewhere (even
when the article itself is published under a business model which does not make it
immediately free to all).

We recognise, however, that hosting, maintaining and preserving raw data or data
sets, and continuing to make such data available over the long term, has a cost which,
in certain circumstances, the host site may need to recover. We also recognize that
on occasion the generation of data has been privately funded, and the funding entity
may have a particular reason for restricting access to the data (either temporarily or
even permanently), but we believe these should be limited exceptions, and that journal
publishers themselves should claim no ownership interest in such data. The academic
and publishing communities should discuss further (in the context of the debate on the
public funding of research) whether more reliable and more permanent sites should be
established to host research data.

None of this means, however, that databases themselves – collections of data
specifically organised and presented, often at considerable cost, for the ease of
viewing, retrieval and analysis – do not merit intellectual property protection, under
copyright or database protection principles. Such databases are often characterized by
the sophistication of their data field structuring, searchability tools, and the like, and
scholarly publishers are often involved in producing and marketing databases that
contain valuable and useful information for scholarly research. The research interest
and value of raw research data sets and individual data points is entirely different, and
serves different purposes, from that of specific databases that have been organised and
compiled for particular research needs.

There is sometimes confusion about whether the use of individual ‘facts’ and data
points extracted from a database is permitted under law. Facts themselves are not
copyrightable, but only the way in which information is expressed – this is
fundamental in copyright law. In the EU, the use of ‘insubstantial’ parts of a
database, provided it is not systematic and repeated, does not infringe the database
maker’s rights.

Articles published in scholarly journals often include tables and charts in which
certain data points are included or expressed. Journal publishers often do seek the
transfer of or ownership of the publishing rights in such illustrations (as they might do
with respect to an author’s photograph), but this does not amount to a claim to the
underlying data itself.

We hope that this statement is helpful in clarifying the views of publishers concerning
raw data, data sets and databases, and that the statement will serve as useful guidance
for publishers in their policies concerning data sets submitted with papers. Scholarly
and scientific publishers share the view that research data should be as widely
available as possible.

June 2006

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