Perfect Storm Brewing as Open Data and Data Inflation Collide

IT lawyers used to be  primarily concerned with issues of intellectual property and software licensing. Now data is rapidly becoming the new currency of the digital economy and related rights and access are coming under close scrutiny. At exactly the same time that the open data movement is gathering pace. All the conditions, in fact, for a perfect storm.

“Data is funny stuff in legal terms”, explains Richard Kemp, IP lawyer with Kemp IT Law. Unlike physical goods that have legal owners and which you are not allowed to steal, rights arise in relation to data, which is considered inert until something is done to it.

Three legal jurisdictions  treat these data rights and they are intellectual property, contract and regulatory. It goes without saying that the ins and outs of these three legal domains are technical. Rather than get bogged down in this here, I will refer you to Richard’s own blog on the topic that leads you through the legal maze.

The key piece to note here is that as data becomes a new currency in the digital economy, traditional thinking will be challenged and nowhere more so than with Open Data.  Basically, the Open Data lobby wants to take the contract and IP wrappers off data and put it in a big pool for anyone to use.

But just as the government owns the biggest real estate in the UK and is expected to get a return on behalf of the taxpayer, it’ll need to do the same for its data estate, Kemp anticipates. “The Government has the largest data estate in the country. Once you start to think about joining up education, tax and that’ a lot of potential revenue”.

It can’t just focus on making money from data assets, of course. “It will need to mediate the interests of state security, citizen privacy against the desire to make a commercial return” says Kemp. And it will also need to take account of citizens’ rights and expectation about their own data which is thrown, anonymised into the pool.

In a past BVEX #ITValue tweet chat, our community discussed the data driven economy and mooted who owns data, particularly when it is aggregated or synthesised to create new value.

Paul Connolly, head of the Management Consultants Association Think Tank suggested citizens could be owner or proxy owner. Mateen Greenway, HP chief technologist, likewise proposed citizens own their own data and choose which parts of government with whom to share it, effectively forming a mutual value exchange.

“People start to realise that data has great value and will want to assert their rights, Against this is the Zeitgeist of openness and people who will want to use data in the public domain without paying license fees. “This will give rise to disputes, and, as data moves incredibly fast, they will be hard to litigate”, warns Kemp.

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Helen Beckett is the Community Manager of the Business Value Exchange.  She has been a writer and editor for over 20 years and takes a particular interest in the challenges facing the CIO in today’s business climate.

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