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Our Work in Policy at CC: Data

As the year comes to a close, we’re spotlighting Creative Commons’ public policy work, recapping what we’ve done and looking ahead to the new year. In this edition, we turn to our work on better sharing of data.

NYTimes: Regulation and Innovation since 1981 (Radial)” by Jer Thorp is licensed via CC BY 2.0; here modified by cropping.

The sharing of open data can be incredibly beneficial to society: facilitating enhanced scientific collaboration and reproducibility, increasing government and corporate transparency, and speeding the discovery and understanding of solutions to planetary and societal needs. Creative Commons has long championed open data, including in our recent launch of our Open Climate Campaign and our collaboration with partners to launch The Movement for a Better Internet.

Along with promoting open data, we also believe that other ways to share data better can help build the commons and support our mission of better sharing: sharing that is inclusive, just and equitable — where everyone has wide opportunity to access data and to contribute their own data as they see fit. Of course, not all sharing of data is beneficial; for instance, collection and use of one’s personal data can undermine a person’s choice, autonomy, and fundamental rights and raise real concerns. At the same time, there are other ways to share data beyond merely open data — such as by giving individuals control over sharing of their own data — that hold the potential for meaningful benefits.

Creative Commons’ Approach to Data & Public Policy

Creative Commons’ advocacy on data sharing centers around the following key areas:

Neither copyright nor related or sui generis rights should be used to raise barriers to the reuse and sharing of data. Data — that is, facts about subjects — has not traditionally been protected by intellectual property laws, in part, because of the negative consequences of granting legal monopolies over facts. Protecting facts with ownership rights locks up truths about the world, making the basic building blocks of creativity and innovation unavailable for anyone else to use other than their rightsholders, potentially for decades.

People should be able to use, reuse, and share the data they generate when engaging with digital services. Public policy should enable data portability for the data people generate, particularly in contexts of dominant service providers that effectively act as gatekeepers in a market. Enabling portability can foster innovation in the marketplace by preventing users from being locked-in to particular services; unlock more value from the data by allowing others to use and build upon it; and can lead to creative new insights that may have been invisible to the initial data holder.

Interoperability can help ensure individuals can access and share their data. While regulations may encourage or require data sharing, such sharing may be impossible or impractical because of differing data standards. Public policy can play an important role by facilitating or mandating interoperability. To that end, policy can support the development of clear, agreed-upon standards by which data can be shared across services.

The public sector has a critical role to play in facilitating data uses for public purposes. Data collected by public bodies is a public asset, and, except where it’s subject to valid limitations (like privacy and security interests), should be made freely available for everyone to use, reuse, build upon, and share without restrictions. Similarly, databases and datasets that are produced using public funds should be open to the public, even if they were created by third parties. Moreover, public sector entities have a crucial role to play in unlocking access to business’ data in order to serve public purposes. Policy can empower the public sector to help build and steward a broader data commons, where both private sector and public bodies’ data can be accessed and used to public ends, and can encourage more collaboration between the public and private sectors regarding the use and sharing of data.

CC’s Engagement on Data & Public Policy in 2022

Engaging on data regulation in the EU: This year, the European Commission introduced the Data Act, as part of its broader data governance strategy. The Data Act is designed to rebalance control and power over data and hands more control back to consumers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to more broadly unlock industrial data. We welcomed the Act, organized briefings on it, and have advocated before policymakers to strengthen provisions around interoperability and business-to-government data sharing, among other matters.
Supporting open access in the USA: The United States White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued guidance to all US federal agencies requiring federally funded research and research data to be made available to the public to access and reuse. We have long advocated for the importance of open access to publicly funded research data, and this is an important step toward building a better open commons of data that serves the public. We welcome this decision by the OSTP, and we look forward to working with US federal agencies to develop their public access plans.
Ensuring data sharing is part of infrastructure policy in the UK: We submitted comments to the UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s open consultation Enabling a national Cyber-Physical Infrastructure to catalyse innovation. We argued to remove barriers to information and promote the sharing of data and knowledge by educators, activists, advocates, librarians, educators, lawyers, technologists, scientists and more.
Exploring standards for sharing climate data: Through our work on the Open Climate Campaign, we have seen how large climate change datasets are distributed and not easily accessible to climate researchers and policy makers, due to a combination of varying technical formats and confusing legal terms of use. This year, we have begun to explore what it would take to develop a sharing standard for climate data (similar to the Digital Public Goods Standard that CC helped create), and are looking at how this effort could be sufficiently resourced.

What’s Next

In the coming year, we’ll continue to engage on specific legislation like the EU’s Data Act and campaign for ensuring that data can be put to critical public-interest purposes, including through our Open Climate Campaign. While the Data Act has requirements for business-to-government sharing in certain limited public policy circumstances, it’s also worth thinking about how to support public service entities in building and stewarding a broader data commons. Groups like Open Future and others have elaborated on this concept, and, for our part, CC’s Copyright Platform Working Group 2 “Digital Sharing Spaces” will be publishing a comparative mapping of the legal landscape for data sharing for research purposes across the US and EU. The European Commission has signaled that progress on health and mobility data spaces is a priority, and we look forward to contributing to these and other efforts.

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