Licensing and Other Legal Issues

What issues are we dealing with in the Cutting Edge Edge project?

Dr. Stephen McGough explains about the technical issues.

The software produced for this project will be released under an open source license. The exact license is still under debate but will most likely be selected as one of the more common software licenses such as GPL, LGPL or BSD, although the University will retain the rights of ownership to the software in the case of potential IPR exploitation. However, as this work will be accessing information held within other repositories and the information federated together through our portal the issues of licenses and other legal issues has a profound effect on the project.

As we require access (through API’s) to different databases this requires, in most cases, a set of user credentials in order to access these repositories. Obtaining these credentials is often fraught with complications as access to the data brings up its own licensing and ownership issues. In general most of the data that we wish to access is openly available, though in some cases held at facilities that also hold other non-open data. As we will be accessing this data programmatically through an API this raises concerns of security. Though as we (in general) only require read access to this data we can avoid most of these security concerns. There is also the issue of ownership of this data. We need to verify that the data we are accessing is open for us to present and that we adhere to any requirements over this data, such as attributing ownership and clearly identifying this data. Thankfully the core source data, which we are accessing for this project, is all publically available and the other data resources, which we are accessing, are open sources of information.

The other element for this project is the ability for users to add additional information to the site. In order to reduce the complexities for this project of ownership of this data we have adopted the model of reference to these other sources of data. Hence, if a user wishes to attach photographs, images or other documents to an item within our repository rather than uploading these files to our repository they provide a URL link to these files located on a remote site. In this way we remove the risk to ourselves of breaking copyright. Such links to external data can be marked as such allowing the user to realize that this data is not part of the main site. The one exception to this process is the ability for a user to add short textual notes to artifacts within the collection. This is meant to cover useful information not published through other sites. For example a researcher may make notes on an artifact in preparation for a publication and desire that these are not made public until a given date in the future  – to allow them time to publish. The intention here is that users will provide this information under a creative commons license allowing us to use the information as appropriate, with the provision for an embargo on the original publication of this information.

To prevent the publication of illegal information through this above short notes system or links to external URLs we plan to use the approach of only displaying notes which have been approved by a number of trusted users. Notes and URLs can only be placed by a logged in user to the site and only initially viewed by logged in users. Once a set number of trusted users have agreed that the post is legal and appropriate then the note or URL can be displayed to non-logged in users. A final stage is also envisioned in which data collected could also be rolled back into the underlying database in a case where it was considered to be significant enough to be added to the primary record.