Who owns the data?

This is going to be a stream of me 'thinking out loud' with a large dollop of playing devil's advocate...

Suppose that tomorrow morning I go out and find a singing male Sardinian Warbler on a bird reserve.  I tweet it out. Within a matter of minutes it is picked up by the information services and the news is disseminated by them. On the back of this a bird tour picks up on the news and they all come and have a look.

Now, both the information services and tour company have used my information - without permission - to make money from it (by charging others to access it or by charging clients to be shown my bird via my information). Is that morally acceptable? Is it stealing information, without permission, for financial gain, or have I relinquished all control over my information by placing it in the public domain? And because I was on a bird reserve, albeit with permission, was it my place to tweet the information at all? Should I not have alerted the staff and allowed them to deal with the information themselves? It's not straightforward, is it...

And on that final point comes the subject of etiquette. If you are birding on a reserve, at an observatory or anywhere that you could be considered to be a guest, then maybe the tweeting out of news should be deferred to those local birders or employees on site. In simplest terms it's just being polite. Oh, and don't pass off others sightings as your own - if you want to pass on the data for others to share then re-tweet it - that does the job nicely and also gives credit to where it's due - the original observer(s). Otherwise it looks as if you have stolen the data and are trying to pass it off as your own.

Having said all that, I find myself wondering as to my own recent actions. Having written up a paper on the recent Hawfinch irruption into Surrey, I plundered social media and websites to obtain the data to do so. No permissions were attained. Should I have done that? Were the observations and counts available for me to do with them as I pleased? Admittedly, I was not getting payment to write it, but would it have made any difference if I had?

Comments

John said…
Can of worms!!
Peter Alfrey said…
there's some blogging sites now that use crypto-currencies to pay bloggers everytime someone visits their blog, maybe other social media sites will follow and everything you post might be rewarded with a nano currency - the more it is copied and shared the more you get. Wouldn't be surprised if we all are going to end up with a social media value that measures our social media share value.
Steve Gale said…
Indeed John - good to hear from you!
Steve Gale said…
I AM NOT A NUMBER!!!! (With apologies to those not old enough to understand that...)
Derek Faulkner said…
I always bear in mind that anything put out into the public domain becomes just that - public and liable to be re-used by other people. Most of us plunder somebody else's data at times, just as you did with the Hawfinch stuff. If I don't want people to know about something rare on my patch, I keep it quiet, have done several times, just telling in confidence the County society. Can never understand why within minutes of seeing something, that people have to alert the wide world and risk the site being invaded by all manner of odd types.
Steve Gale said…
A good summary there Derek.
Dylan Wrathall said…
Steve,
This is a real weird one. We blog because we enjoying sharing, yet feel we've been robbed when a third party uses our efforts to promote their own? No answers, I'm afraid, just observations! - Dyl
Steve Gale said…
Dyl, I don't actually mind what people do with 'my' information, but am mindful that there are people/companies out there that make money on the back of it. Just thought that I'd throw it out there. All the best, Steve.

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