Explaining Legal Interoperability

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The following is from an exchange I had on the RDA mailing list for legal-interoperability of research data. Identities of the innocent have been mildly obfuscated.

When I alluded to “response to queries,” I didn’t mean a query like, “Hey Enrique, could I have the paper on the great unconformity that you published last year?” A response to that query will be, hopefully, a research paper, but that is not what I was suggesting. Instead, how about, “Oi Enrique, could you please point me to the netCDF file on temperature model for Greenland that you used in March?” If I am lucky enough to get that netCDF file from you, I want to make sure I can mix it with some water isotope data I have in ERDAS format without running afoul of any legal restrictions.

It doesn‘t matter how I get the data—by calling and asking you for it, over FTP, by scp, on a 5¼ floppy via FedEx, through a RESTful service, or, lord have mercy, in an email attachment—what I want is legal clarity for its use. Clearly, some results will be copyrightable and others not, some will have certain other restrictions and others not. The key is clarity so we can maximize interoperability.

Let me say two things again:

  1. While data come in a gazillion formats and modes, but I don’t understand what is so fundamentally different about them that they can’t be made legally interoperable. Would love to know.

  2. If after three years of work, the RDA Legal Interoperability Group comes up with recommendations for only simple databases and observations, I would be very disappointed.