Open by Default: making Open Data truly open

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In 2012 BioMed Central launched its public consultation on Open Data. Running from September to November, the consultation sought to gather consensus and support from the scientific community for BioMed’s initiatives to reform the copyright and licensing agreements of its open access journals.

Access to scientific data is often hampered by legal uncertainties surrounding its use. Copyright law in particular can impede access to data as it is often unclear whether data is protected, with laws differing greatly internationally. In order to clarify the legal status of data published in its open access journals BioMed will transition to public domain dedication of data under the Creative Commons CC0 waiver. 

The results of the consultation have now been published in BMC Research Notes and include detailed answers to questions such as;

  • How appropriate is public domain dedication for data you (already) publish in journals?
  • How do you define data – what data file types do you commonly publish as additional files (supplementary material)?
  • How might removing legal restrictions on data sharing benefit (or harm) your research?

One striking feature of the consultation was the surprisingly low response to the question “How do you define data?” Defining data is notoriously difficult so the lack of response to this question is perhaps unsurprising. However this ambiguity does have important implications for applying a legal tool like the CC0 waiver to selected parts of published works.  In order to roll Creative Commons out across the whole portfolio the process will have to be automated, without the need for humans to evaluate each type of file and its contents. As the published paper points out;

There are a number of file types which are more obviously associated with data but comprehensively defining them might be an insurmountable challenge.”

In order to bypass this problem, BioMed plans to make all data submitted to its journals “Open by Default”. Under this system all article data will automatically receive the CC0 licence agreement unless the author has opted out.  Applying the CC0 licence automatically to all data submitted to BioMed will remove all legal barriers to sharing content, maximizing its potential for reuse and promoting collaboration between researchers.

By overhauling the copyright and licensing structure of its journals in line with the Panton Principles, BioMed aims to make published data truly open. Work on the technical and legal details is now underway and BioMed would like to thank everyone who responded to the consultation for their thoughtful queries and suggestions. If you would like to give us your opinion on the changes to our licensing agreement please give us your thoughts in the comment section below.