Copyrighted text as research data: a challenge for digital humanities
Electronic texts are increasingly important as a data source in linguistics and literary studies. The SwissCorpora project addresses the question: what are the legal implications of doing research on copyrighted texts?
To this end, a survey into the current use of electronic texts (i.e., corpora) was conducted in April 2013. Its results were used to construct six case studies that involve typical situations that researchers are confronted with. These case studies were subsequently assessed from a legal point of view and general guidelines for researchers were worked out; see menu to the left for details.
Overall conclusions of the project
Text-based research does not have a satisfactory legal environment in Switzerland today - crucial research data cannot be legally documented or shared. This runs counter to demands for transparency and open access in the sciences.
Swiss law does not provide exceptions for publicly funded research or fair use of copyrighted textual material, as U.S. and other copyright law does. Provisions of this sort are needed to legalize legitimate practices and strengthen Switzerland's position in the sciences.
Summary of key legal issues:
- any digitalization, collection and annotation of copyrighted text is a potential legal problem as it results in a derived work infringing on the copyright for the original work
- for researchers working individually this infringement is admissable as "private use"
- but sharing such data with colleagues is admissable only for educational purposes, but not for research, not even if the data is only shared with a small circle of colleagues
- these problems remain even if the material was previously published on the web