Manage Your Research Data: Copyright & Intellectual Property

This guide provides a primer on the fundamentals of data management.

Intellectual Property and Copyright

While often used interchangeably, "Intellectual Property" and "Copyright" are not the same. Intellectual property is the broad umbrella term that may include copyright, patents, or trademarks, which are specific (and restrictive) forms of intellectual property.

  • Intellectual Property refers to any form of intellectual creation. Data is the intellectual property of the researcher, or possibly of their funder or supporting institution. Data is intellectual property, but that does not mean it cannot be used by other researchers (with appropriate attribution).
  • Intellectual Property should not be conflated with Copyright, Patents, or Trademarks, which are specific forms of Intellectual Property that may prevent others from using the data.
    • Example: if an intellectual property holder makes their data freely and publicly accessible on GitHub, but does not pursue a copyright, the data is still their intellectual property.
    • Conversely, if a researcher signs over their copyrighted work to a 3rd party, it becomes the 3rd party's intellectual property. The original author or creator is not always the intellectual property owner, especially if they have sold or transferred the copyright.
  • Copyright is a specific form of intellectual property that restricts use by granting exclusive legal rights to the copyright holder. Copyright material cannot be used without authorization of the copyright holder, though there may be instances in which copyrighted material might fall within "Fair Use." For more information, consult http://copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf  
  • Data cannot be subject to copyright. Data is a fact, which cannot be placed under copyright. 
  • What can a researcher copyright? While data is a fact that cannot be subject to copyright, the presentation, collection methods, or other unique aspects can be placed within copyright (consult "Data Copyright" section).
    • Example: Individual figures, findings, or statistics created by modelling software cannot be copyrighted, but the computer model software may be copyrighted.
  • Summary: Data is consider a fact, which cannot be subject to copyright. Data can, however, be claimed as intellectual property even without a copyright. In practice, this means researchers cannot copyright data, but can require other researchers to give them credit for the data collection or creation. Aspects of data collection and presentation, however, may be subject to copyright, at which point it becomes the intellectual property of the copyright holder.

Please note that Portland State University has specific guidelines on copyright and Intellectual Property, which are outlined below.

Intellectual Property at PSU

PSU Copyright Policy

Data Copyright

Data are considered discoverable "Facts," not original works in themselves,  and are thus not copyrightable. The methods of compilation, analysis, annotation arrangement, or selection of data, which may be novel, unique, or proprietary, can be protected under copyright. As an illustrative example, individual pieces of data in a table cannot be protected under copyright, but the table itself can be copyrighted. Patents may similarly be applied to the analysis, compilation, or arrangement of data if it leads to new inventions.