Research Remix

January 7, 2012

Research Works Act attacks data dissemination too

Filed under: Uncategorized — Heather Piwowar @ 10:23 pm

Sponsors and supporters of the Research Works Act keep claiming that it doesn’t cover “the raw data generated by government-funded research” [1] or “raw data outputs” [2]. That’s not what I get from a direct reading of the bill.   The relevant sentence reads:

“Such term does not include progress reports or raw data outputs routinely required to be created for and submitted directly to a funding agency in the course of research.”

This doesn’t say it excludes raw data.  It says some complicated thing about it excluding raw data that is routinely required to be submitted directly to the funding agency. There aren’t many NIH or NSF program officers I know who want me to routinely sent them all my raw data, and many data repositories are not hosted at funding agencies.

This means that practically all “published” research datasets (including those in tables, supplementary information, and presumably non-federal data archives) are subject to the Research Works Act.  On purpose or because of poor sentence structure?  I don’t know, but the effect is the same.

Read the bill again with data in mind [comments added]:

No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that–

(1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work [government-funded investigator dataset] without the prior consent of the publisher of such work [who would be considered publishers? publishers of the articles that describe the data collection? data archives too?]; or

(2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination [“distributing, making available, or otherwise offering or disseminating a private-sector research work through the Internet or by a closed, limited, or other digital or electronic network or arrangement”] of a private-sector research work [government-funded investigator dataset].

Insane.  The government can’t *permit* (let alone require) the *making available* of data *on a closed digital network* (let alone the internet) without the publisher’s approval?  Data they funded collecting?

ok I think writing that down has disgusted me so much that I’m done thinking about the Research Works Act for now.  It is just insulting.

Stand up against the AAP and everyone who supports this.





  1. Important comment by +Matt Jones on Google Plus about the possible reach of these data dissemination restrictions:

    Great points, Heather. Legalese gets interpreted by lawyers and courts, so you’re right to be suspicious of this language whether restricting data dissemination was intended or not. I wonder if the language here could even prevent agencies like NSF from trying to explicitly fund open data distribution networks like DataONE ( What’s fascinating about this wrinkle that you’ve pointed out is that most data are not creative works, and so are not subject to copyright in the US (see overview of copyright issues for data ( in response to the OSTP request for comments on Public Access to Digital Data (, but the broad language in the RWA may restrict distribution of research data in ways that can’t even be done via copyright. #rwa #opendata

    Comment by Heather Piwowar — January 8, 2012 @ 8:06 am

  2. Thanks very much for your past three posts on this madness. I’ve spread the word through my networks and I’ll write a blog post to keep it moving. Keep up the great work.

    Comment by Zuleyka Zevallos — January 8, 2012 @ 9:14 am

  3. I just realised that this madness could prevent any support for the big genomic databases… or not?

    There is a question on who the publisher is, though. There is no publisher when a research grant is given. So this is about the policy requiring OA deposit after publication. I’m guessing that a revised policy requiring publication only with OA publishers would still be permitted by the words above. So perhaps would a policy requiring deposit of data in (and publication by) an OA repository.

    Comment by Chris Rusbridge — January 9, 2012 @ 9:05 am

  4. Peter Suber’s take on #rwa implications for research data, from comments on g+ thread:

    “Heather: I agree with you. Whether it’s deliberate or inadvertent, the RWA as written could cover most research data arising from federally-funded research.

    I also agree that it doesn’t matter whether this problem is deliberate or inadvertent. Even if the framers didn’t intend to bar open-data mandates, the tools would be there for any future administration to use.

    But having said that, I suspect sloppy drafting. This bill was bought and paid for by journal publishers, and they don’t generally oppose open-data mandates. In fact, many who bitterly oppose OA for texts publicly support OA for data –for example . The bill is poorly drafted in other respects and seems to be poorly drafted in this respect as well. What other respects? The RWA would prevent any agency from funding a written work and requiring the rights to use and reuse that work. That central provision would severely undermine federal procurement law. Mike Carroll pointed that out for a predecessor of RWA , and it’s just as true for RWA itself.”

    Comment by Heather Piwowar — January 9, 2012 @ 10:35 am

    • My response, in same g+ thread:

      “Yup, that makes sense. Hopefully this doesn’t get anywhere near the point where we have to worry about demanding specific language changes to avoid unintended consequences. The intended consequences are quite dire enough :) Thanks for your thoughts, Peter.”

      Comment by Heather Piwowar — January 9, 2012 @ 10:37 am

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  10. Hooray!! at last someone who shares the opinions as me, seriously i’ve been talking to my collegues about this act and the effects if will have on google+, they just laugh and tell me to calm down

    Comment by Matt Private investigator — March 21, 2012 @ 5:18 am

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