The rapid expansion of the data economy raises serious questions about who ‘owns’ data, and what data ‘ownership’ entails. In most jurisdictions, data that are kept confidential can be protected as confidential information. However, such data are vulnerable to exposure through hacking or leaking by third parties. In many instances, significant stores of data cannot be kept confidential, and protection must be sought elsewhere. Copyright law has long treated facts as being in the public domain, but will provide protection for compilations of facts that meet the threshold for ‘originality’. Such protection is considered to be ‘thin’, as it does not extend to the underlying facts, applying only to their original selection or arrangement. In the European Union, database rights offer a more robust protection for compilations of data, but they also fall short when it comes to protecting the facts that make up such compilations.
Debates over ownership rights in data have been heating up. In Europe, policy makers have raised the possibility of creating sui generis ownership rights in data. In Canada, a recent court decision has raised the interesting question of whether facts and data should be treated differently in copyright law, offering a far more robust protection for data than for facts. In addition to these developments, Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation also appears to vest certain rights in data subjects through the newly introduced concept of data portability.
If data are capable of ownership, either through a sui generis right or copyright law, this raises important questions about how to strike a balance between the rights of data ‘owners’ and the public interest in access to and reuse of data. This paper will explore the legal bases for claims of ownership of data, the extent of the public interest in access to and use of data, and the areas in which public policy development is required to address the changing needs of the data economy and society.
Scassa, Teresa, Data Ownership (September 4, 2018). CIGI Papers No 187.