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Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Terms of Use

Terms of Use dictate how a website and its contents can be used. These include ownership or copyright of individual pieces of data, ownership or copyright of a data set, policies for data access, and policies for data use. Terms of Use (TOU) are often hosted under titles such as Terms and Conditions, Terms of Service (TOS), Data Use, or Use Policy. null


Data ownership is claimed as a type of intellectual property right. Essentially, intellectual property rights state that the person who created a piece of intellectual property owns that property, and is solely entitled to the benefits associated with ownership and use. Copyright, which protects the form or expression of an idea, is the type of intellectual property most frequently discussed in citizen science. 

While people cannot own copyright of a piece of information (or a piece of data), people can hold the copyright of a database, or a collection of data that is organized in a systematic way. In order for someone to claim copyright of a database, the U.S. Copyright Office suggests that there must be "independent creation plus a modicum of creativity." 

If a project claims copyright of some or part of the data that it gathers, then the project has the right and the responsibility to determine how others can use that data. Many citizen science projects allow limited access to the data that they gather, or provide different levels of access based on a user’s relationship with the project. ReClam the Bay hosts annual reports containing interpreted data and journals of project activities on their website, but does not offer participants access to original data. Project Budburst hosts spreadsheets of raw data and PDFs of aggregate summary reports on their project website. The decision to grant access to raw or aggregate data sets is one that each project must make individually. 

Many projects that allow re-use have adopted Creative Commons licenses as a method of clearly explaining their policies. In some cases, a single license applies to all of a project’s data; in other cases, different licenses apply to different types of data. For example, Great Worldwide Star Count licenses their data under a general Attribution-ShareAlike license, but licenses their classroom activities and teaching resources under the more specific Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. This means that their data can be used for commercial purposes, but their teaching tools cannot.

For more information, please refer to this data policy primer

Citizen science, volunteer monitoring, participatory action research... this site supports organizers of all initiatives where public participants are involved in scientific research.

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