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Intellectual Property Rights

In this article, we will give a quick overview of intellectual property rights.
Man and woman talking in office.

In this article, we will give a quick overview of intellectual property rights.

According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, intellectual property refers to:

…creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names, and images used in commerce.
It is important to remember that Intellectual property rights (IPR) cover the expression of an idea rather than the idea itself. There are several types of intellectual property: trademarks, patents, industrial designs, and copyright.
Most research institutions have IPR policies. Often there are also separate “technology transfer offices” that help students and researchers with such matters. In our experience, there may be a gap between the focus on protecting the IPR for commercialization on one side, and the ambitions of sharing using the Open Research principles on the other. Since these matters are handled differently from institution to institution, and country to country, you must check the regulations that you need to follow. Here we will present it from a general point of view.
Copyright may be defined as:
…a type of intellectual property that gives its owner the exclusive right to make copies of a creative work, usually for a limited time.

The copyright protects two types of rights:

  1. The economic rights allow the right owners to be paid when others use their works.
  2. The moral rights allow creators to take preserve and protect their link with their work.

The creator of a work may be the owner of economic rights. For many professionals, however, the rights may be transferred to one or more copyright owners. The moral rights usually stay with the creator.

As researchers, it is useful to separate between two types of rights: your own rights as a creator (of data, code, media) and your use of other’s copyrighted material. We will look more at these two types in the following.

The researcher needs to decide what type of rights one wants over the material one produces. The moral rights will usually stay with the researcher. However, it has been common to transfer the economic rights to articles and books to commercial publishers. One of the aims of the Plan S initiative is to make research results openly available, and let the researcher keep the copyright. This is often known as Open Access.

With the turn to Open Research, more data, media, and source code is shared openly. However, it is important to think about what type of license to use. For example, if one deposits data with a commercial publisher, they may ask to get the copyright to the data. But also when making the data available on your own web page, you should think about what type of license you use. We will get back to licenses shortly.

When researching music, we often use other’s copyright-protected material in our studies. This could be done explicitly, as we use commercially available music tracks as stimuli in an experiment. Other times, it could be done by accident. For example, by recording videos of a person standing in front of a painting hanging on the wall. Even if the painting is irrelevant to the study, it may cause problems when sharing the video recording later. One may not even know who the creator is. Then there is the question of whether the creator is alive or dead, and who actually holds the rights to the work in question.

The general rule of thumb is to ask the creator for permission to reuse the work. In many cases, this is not a problem. It may be a challenge if the creator is dead, but the work is still not public domain. Then one may need to contact ancestors to get permission. Other times the creator does not hold the copyright to their own work. Then it is necessary to find who actually owns the copyright. This may be a tiresome procedure.

For some material, such as music and films, there may be many copyright holders: composers, text writers, performers, visual artists, and so on. This can lead to a high degree of legal complexity for a researcher wanting to use the work.

What complicates things is that there may be a mix of your own and other’s copyrighted material. At RITMO, we have experience with this when we do studies that involve musicians. For example, they may play another person’s composition. Some of the researchers may also take part in the performance themselves. Then it is crucial to be clear about who is doing what, for what purpose, and with what license type.

Summing up

As a rule of thumb, always check the copyright of the material you want to use. If you are using material available through a platform, check the rules and regulations that apply to use that platform’s material. 

It would be best to make it a habit to think about copyright, both your own and others. Here are some tips.

When using other’s data and media:

  • Who owns the copyright? There may be more than one copyright holder (for music: performer, composer, lyricist, producer).
  • What license(s) are used? If open licenses (such as CC), there may still be limitations on reuse.
  • What are the costs of reuse? Remember that “open” and “free” are not the same. You may have to pay for reuse.

When generating your own data and media:

  • Assign a license. The default should be an open license, such as CC-BY, but there may be limitations based on the copyrights of others. We will get to these in the next step.

When generating new data and media that involves the copyright of others:

  • Agree on copyright ownership. If you record music in the lab, you may need to obtain the rights to perform a song.
  • Assign a license.
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