IASSIST 2008 Conference – Technology of Data: Collection, Communication, Access and Preservation

From 28th to 30th May I attended the IASSIST 2008 conference, Technology of Data: Collection, Communication, Access and Preservation at Stanford University.

I was there representing the Legal Framework for e-Research Project, which is hosted at QUT. Under this project, we have been examining and developing legal and management frameworks for data access, sharing and reuse.

I appeared to be the only lawyer or legal academic at the IASSIST conference, which was somewhat surprising considering the number of times that presenters raised legal questions or concerns in their sessions. The primary concern seemed to be how to determine ownership of data given the vast number of researchers, database managers and other interested parties that may assert ownership interests in the data. Copyright was a concern (does it attach? how do we deal with it so as to provide wide access to the data?), as was privacy. Finally, even where ownership rights could be determined, the big question was: how do we get our researchers to share? It was generally agreed that researchers are notoriously protective (overprotective?) of their data.

My thoughts on these matters were enthusiastically received. In brief, I advocated the use of Data Management Plans from the conception of a research project, which set out:

  • the different parties with an interest in the data collected by the research project;
  • who owns the data and/or who may control the data;
  • who is responsible for managing the data;
  • any legal controls applying to the data, including contractual conditions (arising in a funding agreement, employment agreement or any other agreement), copyright, confidentiality or privacy restrictions;
  • how data collected by the research project will be integrated with existing data from other sources in a way that complies with all responsibilities imposed by law;
  • how data will be disseminated;
  • how data will be attributed;
  • what uses other researchers may make with the data; and
  • data preservation and sustainability.

Whether privacy will be an issue will depend on the type of data collected and whether it can identify an individual. Whether copyright law will apply will depend again on the type of data collected and the jurisdiction in which the data is collected. In Australia, databases may attract copyright protection, but this is unlikely to be the case in the United States. Where data or a data compilation does attract copyright protection, licensing mechanisms can be employed to ensure wide distribution and reuse of the data. One option is applying a Creative Commons licence to the copyrightable elements of the data or database. Alternatively, Science Commons has developed an Open Data Protocol.

I have written more about the legal frameworks surrounding data here (with Professor Anne Fitzgerald).

Another pervasive concern of conference participants (most of whom were – I gathered – data librarians and database/repository managers) was obtaining accurate and reliable metadata from researchers who usually feel that they have a million better things to do than enter metadata into a computer system. This has been a problem faced by librarians dealing with theses and dissertation repositories and journal article repositories for years. Different institutions have different ways of dealing with the problem of reluctant academics. Some institutions have taken it upon themselves to enter the metadata on behalf of the academic. However, I still feel that the best approach is through consistent advocacy, education and demonstrations to show academics the enormous benefits to them of having their work easily searchable, findable and citable online.

The following posts comprise my notes from some of the conference sessions that I found most interesting. Apologies if the notes are a little rough. If you attended the conference and have any corrections, please let me know.

Congratulations to IASSIST for organising a fabulous 2008 conference and to Stanford for hosting it.